In 1970s England a family is terrorised by something unexplainable.
Chinese-Malay-Aussie filmmaker James Wan has been energising the horror genre since he burst onto the scene with 2004s Saw.
His low budget roots have led to huge box office success and he’s got a unique sense of style which has survived the transition to larger productions. In 2013, be brought all of that to bear on The Conjuring, which went on to become the second biggest horror film of all time (after The Exorcist, if you’re wondering).
Fresh from the triumph of Furious 7 ($1.5 billion gross) he’s back on a smaller scale to deliver the creeps once more, and he does so in fine fashion with The Conjuring 2.
There’s something pretty unique about these films - they’re suffused with a sense of the more languid pacing and constant unease of 70s horror, helped by the period setting. But Wan also brings in canny camera moves, mesmerising visual flourishes and more than a little of the modern jump scare film language.
The result is a film that manages to be both slow paced and frenetic, unafraid to spend time on gentler scenes but willing to go full bore on the chills when it needs to. And that gives it immense crossover appeal, a gateway horror which ebbs and flows and makes for solid date night fodder.
I’m a big fan of Wan’s take on ghost stories which are totally willing to show off the spectres. It’s a grounded approach to the subgenre, which can lead to some slightly silly moments but plenty more epically creepy encounters.
It’s fair to say that Wan’s direction is the real star here but those in front of the camera acquit themselves well. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s investigators are somewhat marginal this time around and their self-contained story isn’t that interesting.
Instead we spend a good deal of time on the ground in the UK as events escalate. Some of the accents are a tad broad but Frances O’Connor does good work and I could have sworn young American lass Madison Wolfe (True Detective) was a Brit from her spot on tones. Plus it’s always nice to see Irish folks Simon Delaney and Maria Doyle Kennedy.
At 134 minutes the film feels overlong and 15 minutes could easily drop out of the laggy opening hour. I also felt that some of the subtlety of the first film was lost in the overblown finale, especially for a film purporting to be based on true events.
Another issue I had - the house is massive. The council estate was recreated on a stage in LA and some liberties were taken to make it easier for the crew and, presumably, because Americans wouldn’t believe how tiny homes are in these waters. The result makes it look positively palatial.
Still The Conjuring 2 is a terrifically terrifying slice of genre goodness and should be able to more than replicate the success of the first film. It may even give you a few sleepless nights. More wonderful work from Wan.