Janet’s asleep . . . and I’m talking.
The first Conjuring film was an against-all-odds complete success in my opinion, one of the best horror films ever made really. As if that wasn’t miraculous enough, to make a genuinely great film out of the classic clichés we’ve all seen a dozen times, the franchise has pulled off an even greater feat: a masterpiece of a sequel. It’s hard to just stack the two films next to each other and make a decision about which one is “better,” because it’s not that clear cut. The story here is better, I think, than the story of the first film, with a more creative and surprising twist at the end. But, scary and suspenseful as this movie is, it’s not as arresting and petrifying as the first movie; perhaps the first movie just had the benefit of being the first film set in the universe of these films. We just weren’t at all ready for the kind of quiet dread and extreme tension of the first film but we knew what we were getting this time? Maybe. But even the nun character here isn’t as scary as Annabelle (a character who did ALMOST NOTHING in the first film, but haunted me for weeks) and the Amityville cold open isn’t a patch on the Annabelle cold open from the first movie. But I love the fact that this movie focuses more on the Warrens themselves as real people; in the first movie, there was some of that, but it was still mainly just them as the investigators. In both films, there’s real emotional focus on the family being tormented to the degree that you genuinely care about them, but this film really makes you see the Warrens as real people by exploring their relationship in a way the first film really didn’t. This leads to what is, I’d say, the biggest diversion between the two films which is the tone of the endings. No spoilers, not even general ones, but I’ll just say that the masterful final shot of the first film was absolutely pitch perfect and the tone of this film’s ending is really exactly the opposite to the first film’s ending. I can imagine the ending of this film being controversial (and if you’ve seen the film, I’d love to hear what you thought about it), but I thought it was fine, if not as impactful as I might have liked.
But enough about the film in relation to the first film. How does it stand up on its own? Like an absolute champ. All the performances are brilliant. Frances O’Conner is fantastic (feel like I haven’t seen her in YEARS) as the mother of the tormented family and Madison Wolfe gives a genuinely star-making performance as young Janet, the girl at the center of the evil forces. The film captures the period perfectly and director James Wan once again knocks it out of the park by imbuing the world with blues and greys and blacks, creating an oppressive and melancholy atmosphere. His skills at generating suspense are as good as they’ve ever been and he nails some really knock-out sequences (I’ll just say the dog looking out the door; I’ll just say that; no, really, that’s all I’m going to say, except I think my jaw literally dropped). And I have no interest in angering the Nun, even though she/he/it isn’t as scary as Annabelle; the Nun is ******* scary as ****. At the end of the day, this is a terrifying exercise in suspense cranked to the maximum, boasting creepy moments, serious scares, great performances and a well-written emotionally resonant script. It appears that Wan isn’t going to be doing the third one in the series, and that may just spell the end of the franchise, which would be too bad. But even if all we get from the world of the Warrens is these first two films, we’ve gotten way more than anyone could have anticipated. We’ve gotten two cinematic masterpieces, two of the best horror films ever made. 4 stars.
tl;dr – sequel both improves on & falls short of the original, but is consistently well-written, terrifying, suspenseful and brilliantly acted; a horror sequel that’s basically as great as the original. 4 stars.