The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Conjuring 2

There's a moment in The Conjuring 2 that exemplifies what's so effective about it. A little boy, walking through his darkened house in the middle of the night, bumps a toy fire truck on the floor. It lights up and makes noise. He pushes it inside a makeshift tent at the end of the hallway and retreats to his room. We know the truck is going to come back out of that tent, but director James Wan delays the obvious. His camera repeatedly goes back and forth, from the boy's bed to the doorway, where we can see the tent in the distance. Nothing happens. Just when we think that maybe we won't see the truck after all – in part because the camera is pointed toward the bed – it abruptly appears in the doorway, sound blaring. Wan's ability to take standard chiller conventions and find unexpected ways to execute them ensures that, despite a few weaknesses, The Conjuring 2 holds you in its grasp.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren. This time, they travel to England to help single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and her four children, who are living in a haunted house. Young Janet (Madison Wolfe) is repeatedly tormented by the angry spirit of the old man who previously lived there. Sometimes he pops out and scares her, other times he actively possesses her. The Warrens begin investigating all the creepy goings-on, but the terror is compounded by a demonic nun Lorraine has been seeing, as well as her premonition that Ed will meet a grisly fate.

The Conjuring is one of the scariest, most intense horror movies of the last decade. As with that film, this sequel benefits from the fact that Wan treats it like a syncopated piece of music. The scare beats don't hit when we expect them to. He sets eerie situations up, then withholds the payoff for a “down” moment, so that they take us by surprise. The director also uses a variety of visual techniques, including tilting cameras and abrupt zoom-outs, to maximize the energy of each jolt. Other times, he places key objects (a face, a shadow, the fire truck, etc.) where we least expect them, catching us off guard. The Conjuring 2, in other hands, could have been an utterly routine ghost story, but in Wan's, it's easily a cut above most.

A strong cast really helps to class things up. Having good actors in a picture of this sort is essential, and everyone here is excellent. Frequently, cinematic paranormal investigators are portrayed as oddballs. Farmiga and Wilson play the Warrens as helpers, so that even in the most frenetic of scenes, a sense of humanity shines through. Madison Wolfe, meanwhile, has a tricky role, playing a child who occasionally has a malevolent spirit take her over. The actress is always credible, whether Janet is frightened or frightening. She's a real standout.

As good as The Conjuring 2 is, there are a couple of things that prevent it from being as good as the original. One is the length. At 134 minutes, it's about half an hour too long. The first act, which introduces us to the characters and sets up the story, is engrossing. So is the third act, in which all hell breaks loose. But the middle act tends to drag. There are moments that could easily have been lost. A film of this sort, as its predecessor showed, needs to be tight and to move like a rocket. The Conjuring 2 slows the pace down more than it should in its mid-section. The other issue is that the film is, at times, a little too over-the-top. Even if you don't believe in ghosts or spirits, the original contained a certain logic that made it feel as though it could be real. (Both pictures claim to be based on true stories from the Warrens.) When Janet starts transporting through floors, that sense of “reality” is lost a bit.

Then again, what really counts at the end of the day is whether or not a horror movie delivers the chills. By and large, The Conjuring 2 does. It's a worthy follow-up to one of the best modern examples of its type.

( out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

The Conjuring 2 hits DVD and Blu-ray on September 13. An impressive assortment of bonus features are included on the Blu-ray. They begin with "Crafting The Conjuring 2," a 10-minute look at the production. Among the topics covered: setting the story in London, the cinematography and camerawork, and the design of the house (which was built on a soundstage).

"The Enfield Poltergeist: Living the Horror" runs about eleven minutes and features the real Janet Hodgson and her sister discussing the terrifying experience the film is based on. There's also footage of them visiting the set. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, there's no denying that they really think something was after them. Some spooky photos and audio recordings from their ordeal are featured here.

"Getting Crooked" focuses on Javier Botet, a super-skinny, seven-foot actor who portrays the eerie Crooked Man in the film. The makeup used to transform him into the character is explored, too. "Hollywood's Haunted Stage" has a paranormal investigator looking into Warner Brothers' Stage 4, which is allegedly haunted. "The Sounds of Scare" is centered around composer Joseph Bishara's musical contributions. Finally, there are six minutes of deleted scenes, including an excised moment in which the Hodgson kids are harassed at school after their story is reported in the news.

All the bonus features are informative and well-produced. All in all, The Conjuring 2 Blu-ray is a solid package.

Check out The Conjuring 2: Visions 360 Experience:

The Conjuring 2 is rated R for terror and horror violence. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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