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When The Conjuring struck box office gold in 2013 it came as a surprise to no one that there'd be a sequel. Once again directed by James Wan, the film opens up in Amityville, New York in 1976. Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are investigating a certain haunting reported by the Lutz family. Lorraine uses her gift to validate their claims and in doing so, sees Ronald Defeo kill his family in cold blood. So too does she see a demonic entity.
A few months later and Lorraine is insisting that they take a break, no more new cases. What she saw was far too ominous and quietly fears that something is after Ed. Of course, they don't rest long and before you know it they've arrived in the London neighborhood of Enfield. Here a single mother named Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) does her best to raise her four kids: Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Billy (Benjamin Haigh), Johnny (Patrick McAuley) and Janet (Madison Wolfe). Strange things are happening in the house, the TV changes channels on its own, a toy firetruck moves down the hallway under its own power and a pipe bursts in the basement while Peggy tries to do laundry. Eventually, however, things intensify to the point where Janet is speaking in the demonic voice of an old man named Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), who passed away in their house some time before they moved in.
A British paranormal investigator named Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) documents the scene before the Warrens arrive. While they approach the scenario as professionally as possible, as their investigation moves forward there does seem to be room for skepticism here, and a psychologist named Anita Gregory (Franke Potente) is sure it's all a put on. Are the Hodgson's faking it? The Warrens will find out, if that ‘thing' Lorraine saw previously doesn't take care of them first.
With The Conjuring 2 James Wan has thrown subtlety out the window and given us a movie that relies entirely too much on jump scares for its own good. Having said that, they are well timed, they fit in the context of the story being told and some of them are pretty damn effective. Would this have been a better movie had there been more substance? Absolutely. The movie deals with the Warrens getting tired, dealing with their own problems and some of their personal issues in terms of dealing with those who feel they're frauds, but only on a surface level. Ed and Lorraine Warren are fascinating characters and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga really make the roles their own, but in this second film they're woefully underwritten. We do get moments where the character development and relationship between the two is given a bit of breathing room, but more of that would have helped make the conflict that occurs later in the film more impactful and feel less superficial.
The rest of the cast are pretty decent as well. The young actors that play the Hodgson kids are all pretty convincing not just in the horrific scenes but in the calmer moments as well. Frances O'Connor is very good as the mother but again, we don't get to know her as well as we should and this takes some of the power out of the scare scenes. Simon McBurney (who, under a lot of makeup, is a dead ringer for the real Maurice Grosse!) is good in his role too, but his actual investigation is really short shifted here and given very little screen time. Given how important it was to the case that inspired this movie, that's unfortunate as it is genuinely fascinating stuff.
As to the spookshow side of the movie, it's fun, but completely over the top. Every ghost in this movie seems to scream, to lunge towards the camera with long fingers protruding towards us. There's nothing quiet or mysterious here, it's all dialed up to eleven. This is entertaining enough while you're watching it, but there's no real lasting horror. The evil nun that plays a part in the film (not a spoiler as the image is all over the marketing materials for the movie) has an effective moment earlier in the film when Lorraine is alone in a room in their house but once things transition to the UK, that fleeting moment is tossed aside for a loud, angry entity doing everything it can to get your attention. There are impressive moments here, spots in the film where Wan does a great job of making you question things and keeping you on the edge of your seat, but so much of it is style over substance that you can't help but feel just a little let down by the time it's all over and done with. That doesn't mean this isn't worth seeing, it is, but given how well documented the Enfield Poltergeist is, how fascinating the Warrens were and how talented Wilson and Farmiga are it just doesn't live up to its potential.The Blu-ray
The Conjuring 2 arrives on Blu-ray from Warner Brothers in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc framed at 2.40.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. The movie is obviously intended to have taken place in the seventies and the color palette and shooting style mirror that which was used in the first movie and that as such, colors lean towards the period in which the movie takes place. Shot on digital video there are no problems with print damage whatsoever, while detail is excellent from start to finish. The close-up shots show very accurate looking skin tones, no waxiness at all, and you can note individual pores or strands of stubble. Texture is great, you can pick out spots in a coating of dust on a piece of furniture where something brushed up against it and left a trail and you can note the fibers in articles of clothing too. With much of this movie taking place indoors and in low light, it's refreshing to see shadow detail look as good as it does here, there weren't any noticeable instances of obvious compression artifacts and no problems to note with any crush.Sound:
Warner Brothers offers up English language tracks in DTS-HD and Dolby Atmos 7.1 lossless options. Directional effects are frequent, even when they're sometimes subtle, and this helps a lot to really build some great atmosphere and tension making you question if what the characters, and in turn the audience, are hearing is actually the result of paranormal activity or just the sounds that an old house can make. Dialogue remains crystal clear, even when a character whispers you'll have no trouble understanding things, and the various actors' voices have good weight and presence to them. The track is incredibly aggressive when it needs to be but just as often the rears are used for ambient and background effects to help put you in the house with the characters. Clever use of directional effects helps to make the film even more frightening than it would have been otherwise and the score sounds absolutely perfect here. Optional Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are provided in French, Spanish and Portuguese and in English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Removable subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.Extras:
The bulk of the extras on this release are made up of a selection of somewhat short featurettes, the first of which is a ten minute piece called Crafting The Conjuring 2 that is a fairly basic piece in which the principal cast and crew members talk to the camera about how they all worked together to create a sequel worth of the original film. More interesting is the thirteen minute The Enfield Poltergeist: Living The Horror which gives fans a quick but very welcome look at the actual case that inspired the film. Janet and Margaret Hodgson are interviewed here along with Vera Farmiga, Franka Potente, Carey and Chad Hayes, David Leslie Johnson and director James Wan as is a photographer named Graham Morris who worked for the Daily Mirror and covered the story when it was happening. It's pretty fascinating stuff and easily could have been much longer than it is. Creating Crooked spends seven minutes showing us how one of the more memorable phantoms featured in the movie was created while the five minute The Conjuring 2: Hollywood's Haunted Stage allows paranormal investigator/WB security guard Johnny Matook to explain why he thinks that the set the movie was shot on is actually haunted in real life. Composer Joseph Bishara takes the spotlight for seven minutes in The Sounds Of The Scare where he talks up what went into creating the film's rather impressive and entirely effective score
Four deleted scenes, running just over six minutes in combined length, are here as well and worth checking out as they give us a bit more background on the Hodgson girls and their plight. Menus and chapter selection are also included and trailers for a few other Warner Brother's properties play before those menus load (though no trailer for the feature itself has been included here). Also included in the case along with the Blu-ray disc is an insert card containing a download code for a Digital HD version of the movie.Final Thoughts:
The Conjuring 2 does take a little bit of time to get going and could have probably benefited from a tighter opening half hour, but once it starts to pick up steam it entertains. The performances are very strong, the effects handled quite well and while the movie relies way too heavily on jump scares over substance, it's a fun watch. Warner Brothers' Blu-ray has an okay selection of extras but it looks and sounds excellent. This isn't as good as the first film, but if you're entertained by loud ghosts and things popping out at you from the darkness, you'll have a good time with it. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.