The Conjuring 2
Wan has kicked it into overdrive, here, with The Conjuring 2. His camera advances like Argento on amphetamines. It bobs and weaves from above and below, pulling off dolly maneuvers and trick shots at triple the rate of its Giallo influences. Of The Conjuring 2’s 2 hours and 14 minutes, at least half of that seems devoted to extended scare sequences. No one today can string one horror episode after the other like Wan does here. These moments, which frequently only occupy snippets in today's horror movies, provoke the same breathlessness aroused from bravura single takes stirred with the gasps and ticks generated by Wan's manipulation. And that’ll make up the majority of your time with The Conjuring 2, which is unheard of. Most of the genre fare pokes and nudges til the final showdown. This sequel bares all and boasts the vitality to encroach from beginning to end.
Wan’s play with form, particularly his trove of choreographed shots and ever metamorphosing style, make these films, refreshingly, fun. That, and his brand of occasional self-aware cheese. There’s a goofy, familiar, bit with two London cops that could have flattened like a pressed patty, if not for Wan’s timing and tone. And on paper, a lot of this might look too same, but constant camera creativity, expertly designed phantoms, and all-around awesome performances (Particularly from its child star Madison Wolfe) drive the momentum unpredictably. The Conjuring 2, in its lack of restraint, cossets us in continual satisfaction. It moves so rapidly and spends so much time reveling in its gourmet set pieces, that the first hour is nearly, wonderfully, expositionless.
There is a story here though, with people that you care just enough about, to carry you through all the flash-bang film wizardry. There’s a haunted family, The Hodgsons, a single mother, and a swath of demons to dispose of. Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as ‘demonologists’) are back, dressed like 70’s saints, and still helplessly in love (A bit of silly set dressing: A little wooden heart pinned to the wall with the word ‘Love’ etched in, positioned right between the two at home). Basically, Wan has taken the same framework from the previous film and used it as a means of exercising and experimenting with form. It makes for something gratifying, if not a little surficial. There’s going to be some trade-offs when you prioritize the action this heavily, but they’re worth the spectacle. If there are few memorable story points and compositions (as the camera’s rarely static), there are memorable beasties (especially the Crooked Man), and a reinvigorating fun, a delight which may be recalled later as a feeling of warm fuzziness. Another thing, fast films like this bode well for seconds. You’ll forget exactly how Wan’s fast panning camera manipulated you the first time but you'll know only that indeed, it did.
The Conjuring 2’s gratification is unabating, until it’s final, let’s say, 1/4th. The final set piece is not nearly as witty, or stylish as what comes before, and perhaps all the time not spent on character development (but spent well on pageantry) catches up to it here as the dramatic stakes finally show their cards. It would have been the climactic cherry on top of the first 3/4ths indulgence, to go out with a bang, but I’ll take 3/4th’s Wan, over 1/4th most horror anything, any day.