The Conjuring 2:
Director: James Wan
Screenplay By: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan, and David Leslie Johnson
Story By: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, and James Wan
More Info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3065204/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_wr_sm
Director: David F. Sandberg
Written By: Gary Dauberman
More Info: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt5140878/fullcredits?ref_=tt_ov_st_sm
My Thoughts: So after taking a bit of break from The Conjuring Universe after Annabelle was so bad that it physically pained my soul, I recently returned to Warner Brothers’ most profitable spookyverse to watch the next two movies in the franchise: a sequel to The Conjuring and a prequel to Annabelle, and while I certainly have thoughts about them both, I don’t really have enough to say about either to justify a full review, and I felt like the two contained some similarities in their strong and weak aspects. So welcome one and welcome all to my combined review of The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle Creation!
Normally in these reviews, I prefer to start by listing some positives, but in order to contextualize this review, I think starting with my biggest gripe with both movies makes the most sense. To put it very simply, neither movie manages to sufficiently justify its existence. The Conjuring 2 is a sequel to a very well-made horror flick, and while it works for some of the time, it comes off feeling just like a retread of the original. Annabelle Creation is a prequel to a genuinely terrible movie that was already a Conjuring spinoff, and while it’s certainly a large step up from the “original,” it still left me wondering….why? The answer is, of course, studios and money, and that right there is my biggest problem with both movies. They lack the artistic merit and craft that the first Conjuring brought to the table, and end up being drenched in a feeling of corporatized cynicism that is never overcome. While I left The Conjuring with a lasting chill running down my spine, and I left Annabelle laughing my ass off at how bad it was, I left both of these movies feeling….empty. But despite that overarching issue, there are things that both movies undeniably have going for them.
The best part of The Conjuring 2 is James Wan’s direction. I loved it in Malignant, I loved it in The Conjuring, and it felt awesome to see him behind the camera once again. This man has a certain way with the camera — particularly in regards to slow-burn sequences of tension building — that never fails to be successful in getting under my skin. He knows when to drop a jump-scare, he knows when to leave me hanging, and he knows when to throw something truly unsettling and scary at me. Watching one of his movies feels a bit like being turned into a puppet on strings and maneuvered around by an expert puppet-master. I jump when he wants me to jump, I clench my fists in anxiety when he wants me to, and I come out of the experience with a sense of relief that it’s finally fucking over (and I mean that as a compliment!) The Conjuring 2 sees him introducing a brand new cast of spooky demons for the Warrens to face off against, and just like the original Conjuring, there were a lot of scares that decidedly got me.
Unfortunately, I also think that The Conjuring 2’s larger budget works against it in the grand scheme of things. While the shoestring production of the original forced Wan to get creative and minimal with his scares (the clapping hands, for instance), this one allows him to show off the demons in all their spooky, CGI glory, and the end result is….not very scary? It’s the exact same issue that many of the later Alien sequels ran into, where by showing the full xenomorph in long shots that allow the audience to fully soak it in, they realize that the design is kind of goofy, and the fear factor drops by magnitudes. For an example from The Conjuring 2, look no further than Valek, the movie’s main spooky ghost. Appearing in the form of a demonic nun, we are first only shown glimpses of it. Shadows moving around a room, distant shots of it stalking various hallways, and finally, a portrait that it uses as a conduit to attack Lorraine Warren, one of the movie’s two main demonologists. All of this stuff happens in the first two acts of the story, and it’s excellent. Wan uses creepy atmospheres and locations to great effect, and the initial Nun scenes are some of the best in the movie. But then, in the final climactic scenes, Valek’s form is fully revealed, and it’s honestly lame as fuck. We get all these shots of it just kinda standing there, while furniture and shit flies all over the place, and not only is it not scary, but it actively undercuts some of the movie’s earlier scenes.
that right there is The Conjuring 2 in a nutshell. In many ways, it is just a clone of the first movie, just set in Britain. We meet a likable, if troubled, family, various things start to happen around their house, and throughout act one the spooky oddities ramp up in their aggression. Instead of an 18th century witch, we’re treated to the ghost of an old man (who is later revealed to just be one of Valek’s many forms) and he goes around spooking the kids at night. Eventually, it gets bad enough that the Warrens are called in, and they go around and find some spooky things. They get tricked into doing something stupid, Valek takes advantage of it, and then they beat the odds and defeat Valek, saving the souls of one of the family’s many kids in the process. Along the way, we’re treated to various creepy moments and spooky situations, until everything culminates with an all-out battle of wills between the Warrens and the main demon, they win, and another creepy children’s toy is added to the Warren’s spooky trophy room of potential spin-off movies. I will say, though, I have to give credit to both James Wan for once again doing such a good job directing child actors, and to the kids themselves for bringing together some pretty fun and believable performances.
Does the movie work? Overall, I would say yes. If you liked the original Conjuring and want to see it again, but this time British and slightly worse, you will probably have a good time. But it’s overly long, some of the scares in the third act feel really hokey, and if you didn’t like the original Conjuring, this will not at all change your mind. Speaking of not changing my mind, let’s talk about Annabelle: Creation.
Annabelle: Creation proves that no matter how bad your idea is, a competent director is capable of making anything, even a fucking doll, scary. Creation is the prequel to Annabelle, a movie that failed to do anything but make me mildly anxious (except for that one genuinely good scene in the basement), and overall, it’s….fine. It certainly doesn’t have the directorial touch that Wan’s mainline Conjuring films do, but it manages to be pretty scary at times, and despite the pacing being bad and the doll still being hokey as fuck, I will grudgingly admit that I was impressed.
The child performances were particularly strong in this one, as were the characters of Linda and Janice. The movie did a good job building up their relationship throughout the first two acts of the movie, so the third act payoff felt properly earned and resonant. Sister Charlotte was also reasonably developed, as were the Mullens. Unfortunately, Creation’s problems mostly derive from the scares in the entire first half of the movie being jump-scare based. I don’t think there was a single genuinely disturbing scene until Mr. Mullen’s death, and that happens two thirds of the way in! Everything that happens before that point is a cheap imitation of Wan’s brilliant style. It has no sense of pacing, it has no sense of purpose, and it makes the first portion of the movie a vapid series of anxiety spikes, with the occasional moment of well-written character development.
To the movie’s credit, once the scares really start ratcheting up in act three, it gets quite good. Janice’s possession is hard-hitting, and Malthus’ shadowy presence is really intimidating. There’s some incredibly disturbing imagery, along with some spooky tension-building scenes that landed exactly as they were intended, and it all built up to the ending, which was a neat little tie-in with the first movie.
While Annabelle: Creation isn’t as good as The Conjuring, I would call it better than The Conjuring 2. If you’re on board with this spookyverse, you’ll probably have a reasonable time with it. Unfortunately, neither of these movies are especially good, and I don’t see myself watching any more Conjuring movies in the future. Despite both movies being decent, I am ready to write off the Conjuring Cinematic Universe as another corporatized blob of mediocrity.