05 July 2016

As Stupid As It Is Amazing: The Conjuring 2

Directed by James Wan
Full cast and crew at IMDb

I'm still surprised that the director of the campy Saw and the unwatchable Dead Silence matured into the most respectable horror helmer in Hollywood. The Conjuring 2 kept me with my heart in my throat, asking myself scene after scene why I'd bought a ticket to put myself through the relentless build-up of anticipation and terror—it’s awesomely effective, the most horrifying horror around. But that’s no surprise: James Wan is the best, which became an inarguable fact in 2011, when Insidious came out, and subsequent films have only upheld this reputation—even the ones he only produced (such as Insidious 3 and Annabelle, each a piece of strong horror filmmaking in the classical Wan style). 

He’s patient; he lets small sounds, creeping camera movements, deep focus create unbearable tension. Then he’ll let it break, but only a little, and then he starts up again, reaching a higher point of intolerable apprehension. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat, until it’s as exciting as it is unendurable. The daylight scenes in The Conjuring 2, the ones in horror movies in which the characters tend to be safe for exposition, are brief; the nights are long.

Those days are also pretty stupid. (Wan cowrote the script with Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes and David Leslie Johnson, each of whom has written more than their fair share of crap.) I’m generous with my suspension of disbelief, because there's often an emotional payoff more rewarding than cynical superiority. But even I balked at this one. Here’s the spoiler: the demon can only be defeated if the characters know its name, which they do, because previously they asked the demon its name, and it told them—they’d just forgotten! (Good thing they wrote it down!) Then there’s the incessant Catholicism, which adds hollow spirituality, as well as overly literal interpretations of good and evil that Catholicism often inspires (see: all of Guillermo del Toro's movies, The Exorcist, etc. etc.), the sort of simplistic black-and-white morality that deadens the richest art. It’s a shame that Wan can’t find writers as committed to the craft as he is. Then he could make masterpieces without asterisks. Grade: B+


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