Overview: The Warrens investigate a haunting in London, despite premonitions of death. Warner Bros. Pictures; 2016; R; 134 minutes.
Who You Gonna Call?: “We don’t back down from a fight,” says Ed Warren to his wife Lorraine, as he tries to convince her to take one last case before retirement from paranormal investigation. The Warrens, as they’re portrayed, step on to the scene of the hauntings as pros, knowing exactly how to operate and which steps to take. They’re met with some resistance, but they manage to stay mostly on top of the situation. Director James Wan’s final horror film is spirited, rather fittingly, by the ideas of embracing the unnatural, finding a home for oneself, and ultimately, moving on from that home.
Paranormal Activity: The film first introduces us to Janet Hodgson (phenomenally portrayed by Madison Wolfe), who’s a bit of an outsider at school and whose house is haunted by an entity seemingly attached to it. The film gives Janet a simple character arc and is able to explore, through the character, some glaring traits and human emotions you’d expect a “victim” type character to have. It’s neat – you wouldn’t expect a horror film to give its victim character a personality or a psychology, and yet the film does that and manages to weave it into the overall narrative.
The Warrens remain the main characters and Wan’s main medium for expression. He gets to express his fears of returning to his niche and, on the flip side, the empowerment that stems from his history with the profession and his love for delivering.
Can’t Help Falling in Love: After seemingly stepping away from the genre after completing Insidious: Chapter 2 and moving on to the billion-dollar action film Furious 7, Wan returns to close out the story (or, at least a chapter of the lives) of the Warrens. Any other director who’s asked to step back into a genre they publicly stated they would take a leave from would’ve easily just phoned in a sequel and receive the paycheck, but not Wan. Wan applies the same amount of sincerity and devotion as he did to his previous works in the horror genre, as well as Furious 7. Wan not only returns to the genre, but returns as an improved filmmaker and more assured voice.
He isn’t hiding it, though. He’s completely transparent with his desire to try different approaches that aren’t usually found in the horror genre, which is why we get scenes in the film like Patrick Wilson providing a full cover of an Elvis Presley song. It’s not necessarily bad, and it actually works really well in the context of the film. The switch in direction may just put off some audiences. For the most part, though, it still very much feels like a James Wan horror film. His camera still moves like a spectre within locations and his scares are still inventive and psychologically-rooted. He’s just allowed more freedom, which allows the film to have a breather scene like the Elvis one, as well as a simultaneously horrifying and captivating one-shot interview of Ed Warren and the ghost. It’s unnatural and certainly impactful.
Overall: With The Conjuring 2, James Wan delivers a personal goodbye to horror films, featuring scares, boogeymen, straight-up weirdness, intriguing song selections, and love. If this doesn’t perfectly bookend Wan’s horror filmography, I don’t know what will.