Monday, July 4, 2016

"The Conjuring 2"

 2.5 / 5 

Movie-wise, I have a secret shame.

When I watch horror movies, which I generally try not to do even though some of them are among my favorite movies, I watch them with my eyes open but my ears shut.

In movies like The Exorcist, Alien or The Fly, which are some of those horror movies I count among my favorites, plugging your ears with your thumbs will have absolutely no effect.  These are movies that earn their scares not by having things jump out at you and go "Boo!" but by creating a sense of dread that just keeps building and building and building until the suspense and fear are so strong that you squirm in your seat and look away from the screen because you're afraid of what's going to happen next.

But as anyone who has seen a horror film in the past, oh, 30 years or so knows, the easiest way to get an audience screaming goes something like this: The main character, usually but not always a woman, is in a dark room and knows that something else is in there with her.  The soundtrack is quiet and the shot is unbroken as she stops and her eyes get wide.  What she fears is very close by.  Then ...

Boooooooooom! The jump cut to the scary thing is accompanied by a thunderous clap on the soundtrack and the audience jumps back in terror.

Well, of course they do.  Sit in a quiet room and suddenly scream loudly and see if everyone doesn't jump, even if they're not in a haunted house.  It always gets the adrenaline pumping, but it's a cheap trick.  It confuses fear with shock.

James Wan's impressive 2013 film The Conjuring understood the difference.  It was genuinely unnerving and created an atmosphere of such ominous anxiety that plugging my ears made no difference; the fear was too palpable, the movie too well-constructed to rely on cheap gimmicks.

The memory of such a terrific horror movie was why I was looking forward to watching The Conjuring 2, and for the first half-hour or so I tried the old thumbs-in-the-ear trick, and it was a major disappointment to discover that this time around the trick worked.

The Conjuring 2 begins with a familiar set of windows: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are in the infamous Amityville house, trying to determine whether Ronald DeFeo shot his family intentionally -- or if he was under the control of a demonic force.  During a seance, Lorraine encounters the demon that allegedly pushed DeFeo to his crimes, and she believes it to be the most sinister evil force she's ever seen.

Meanwhile, over in England ... a fatherless family living in public housing begin experiencing inexplicable happenings.  One of the girls, 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe), seems to be the center of the activity, and as it ratchets up in intensity, the family flees the house and contacts the media.  The story makes its way to the Warrens, who go to England to investigate the increasingly violent events, which seem to be the work of the ghost of a man named Bill, who used to live in the house and wants it back.

As horror films go, nothing is at all wrong with the outline of the plot of The Conjuring 2, and Wilson and Farmiga are once again convincing and believable in their roles, joined by some impressive British actors, including Frances O'Connor as the mother.

But The Conjuring 2 seems to go on forever.  It is weighed down by long, long stretches where nothing happens -- by which I don't mean nothing scary, but nothing of any real consequence whatsoever.  The Conjuring 2 may want to seem deliberately placed, but it's just glacially paced at times, with entire scenes that seem completely out of place.

There are endless scenes of people debating whether paranormal activity is real or not, how to prove that it's a hoax.  The characters discuss these points and then, 15 minutes later, discuss them again.  At one critical juncture, Patrick Wilson stops the show by performing the entirety of Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" on the guitar.  Wilson does a great Elvis.  Whatever else we are supposed to take away from this scene, and the loving looks that Farmiga gives to him, is unclear.

Long and short, there are so many extraneous scenes like this in The Conjuring 2 that the only way to accurately describe the movie is to say that it drags.  Its 2 hour, 14 minute running time could have been cut by a good 30 or 40 minutes, which would have resulted in a tighter, scarier, better movie.

By the end of The Conjuring 2, my thumbs were down by my lap, not in my ears, and even though I hate the old boooooooooom! trick, sometimes it's better to suffer through it than to watch a horror movie that can't quite deliver the goods.

Viewed July 4, 2016 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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