James Wan, you motherfucker.
I forgot that going to a horror movie alone is risky business because 1) you are literally left SCARED AND ALONE, but 2) when you accidentally let out a scream, you don't have a friend's armpit in which you can burrow your face out of shame. So shit, I yelped, sitting all by myself, and basically spent the rest of the movie with my teeth clenched, afraid I might let out more unfiltered sounds of sheer terror. As the resident horror creep of Complex, I thought I definitely had this in the bag but instead I suffered a series of minor heart attacks, thanks to James Wan's crafty camera tricks. The man knows how to turn an average jump-scare into something you piss your pants over. Instead of overused cuts, he'll often do a long, reactive pan that lets you notice the changed element in the room, whether that be a creepy old man suddenly lurking behind you or a toy fire truck rolling towards you in the middle of the night. It's the kind of scare where you can see it coming but it still makes you jump out of your seat.
Wan, who directed Saw, Insidious 1 and 2, and both Conjuring movies, knows a thing or two about scaring his audience, and he uses everything he's learned over the years to make Conjuring 2 this summer's ultimate scream fest. It might also be the ultimate summer date movie. Hear me out: I witnessed a man and woman sitting in front of me—who had only just met at the screening—reach out for each other's hands at a really scary part as the guy whispered, "Girl, I got you," masking his cowardice with chivalry. (I hope they exchanged numbers after the movie.) But sitting in the back row all by myself, I had no one's hands to grab, not even a stranger's. What a mistake.
It's because of Wan's tricks that there's an element of freshness to the Conjuring sequel, even when there's nothing much else original to the story. Haunted house, paranormal investigators, possessed young girl—you know the drill. But when you're in a dark room and you can't tell if that demon nun is real or just a painting, it's scary as hell. Advertised as the Amityville of England, this sequel finds a family of five—single mother (Frances O'Connor) and her four children—experiencing demonic occurrences in their home, with the youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) being most affected. Eventually, the wicked spirit takes over her body as a vehicle for misdeeds and she starts speaking in a deep, demon-possessed voice (like Linda Blair in The Exorcist), playing ventriloquist's puppet to the disturber, a man named Bill who claims this is his house. The young Wolfe gives one hell of a bleary-eyed performance, switching on and off from Damien-level horrifying to poor little girl who just wants one peaceful night of sleep.
Where this film suffers is probably in length. At 134 minutes, it feels grueling at times, leaving too much room for false alarms—it's one too many bumps in the night before leading to the climactic last half hour. A cheesy and awful CGI ghoul that leads to nothing more than a mild scare could have been cut, for instance. Plus, if no one's getting killed during one of the many furniture-flying scenes, go for (scare) quality, not quantity.
If Wan's downfall is repeat offense, though, he at least has a winning cast to make those 134 minutes tolerable. Aside from the young star, it's really Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga who save this sequel from being a dud. At the end of the day, though, those buying tickets to The Conjuring 2 probably care more about being scared shitless in a dark room than believable romantic chemistry. And I promise, The Conjuring 2 delivers on that front. There have been much better horror films in the past few years (indie is doing an excellent job of that recently), but Wan's comes with a Warner Bros. budget, and he's milked that for studio-level technique and team. Even when you're squirming in your seat from the sheer length of the film, you'll definitely find yourself jumping out of it a lot too.