I Have No Friends and Live to Alienate People: “The Conjuring 2” (2016)

Literally an old man. And some pretty metal decor.

Literally an old man. And some pretty metal decor.

Being in Japan has made it harder to stay up to speed on major horror releases. There are exceptions: I did get to see Sadako vs. Kayako probably before any of you all did (hah!), and I’ve been fortunate enough to get access to some great films, books, and comics via HorrorTalk.com. (Did you know I wrote for them too? I write for them too! Look at this thing I wrote!). I also got to see Lights Out during a brief trip back to the US in July. But I’ve mostly been missing this supposed bumper crop of mainstream horror I’ve been hearing so much about.

But have I been missing it, really? See, those italics there, they indicate a double entendre, if you will, a sassy bit of irony–because, you see, I’m an ass.

We finally got around to watching The Conjuring 2, which currently has a stunning 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.7/10 on IMDB, and 4.5/5 on Amazon. I’ll tip my hand early here and say that, as predicted, I thought this film was mediocre (and that’s generous). Like, really mediocre. Why do people seem to love it so much? To find out, I asked veteran horror fan and self-appointed critic, me, about his impressions of the film. Let’s go over to me in the newsroom for more.

The movie follows the continuing misadventures of the Warrens, to wit, Ed and Lorraine. She’s a psychic, he’s a “demonologist.” (He has a higher degree in demonology. I really missed the boat.) They go to England to investigate the (actually happened, almost certainly a hoax) Enfield Poltergeist case. Spooky stuff happens, there’s an apparent possession, a demonic nun makes hissy sounds, hilarity ensues, day is saved. We’ve seen it all before. (Except this time around Patrick Wilson sings Elvis, because every demon fighter can croon. It’s their version of walking away from an explosion.)

The acting is lamentably meh. Vera Farmiga seems extremely tired as Lorraine Warren, as if she can’t believe she’s back in this role. She’s barely able to conjure up (LAUGH) emotions appropriate to the ghostly events. Patrick Wilson is, as always, likeable, if one-dimensional, as Ed. None of the other performances have enough depth (or screen time) to note, except perhaps that of Madison Wolfe, who plays young Janet Hodgson. She gives a decent performance, but she gives it as the possessed-but-innocent child we’ve seen a thousand times before and adds nothing new to the role.

I know virtually nothing about either the Enfield case or the Warrens–I think, like most people, I first heard of the Warrens from the original Conjuring film–so I’ll forgo commenting on either. But as a film, there’s nothing exciting here, nothing we haven’t seen before, and absolutley nothing scary. There’s a good bit of awful CG, a pointless and laughable “Crooked Man” entity that gets shoehorned in for no discernible reason, and a demonic nun which is linked in the film–get this–to the Amityville murders. The film basically suggests that Amityville and Enfield were part of the same ongoing supernatural event. You guys with your Interwebs probably knew all about this already, but I went in mostly blind, and this is the most eye-roll-inducing reference I’ve seen in a long time.

And the nun is stupid. It’s stupid, you guys. CG shark’s teeth and hissing and running around like a crazy person? That scares you? Then might I advise you to WATCH OUT FOR THE-

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They’re scary mannequins. I imagine you are now in need of smelling salts and perhaps a sherry. Haha, also, “PANTS.”

More egregiously, the nun is totally interchangeable with other baddies from similar films, from the demon in Annabelle, to the, er, other demon in the first Insidious (not to mention the old lady bride ghost, or whatever), to the death metal/The Crow guy in SinisterThis time it’s “Valak,” which I guess is a slightly better name than freaking Bughuul, but it’s basically just a new skin on the same villain we’ve seen any number of times before. (Did you see the Daniel Radcliffe Woman in Black? Or the sequel?) The nun is not scary, or interesting, and certainly not worth making a whole goddamned spinoff for.

(Incidentally, the Bloody Disgusting article linked above claims that the nun was added to the film in the last minue. Maybe that explains why it is so freaking awful and stupid and I hate it.)

Granted, “scary,” like everything else, is subjective. Maybe you have a nun thing. Maybe a habit, dark eye makeup, hissing, bad oil paintings, and shark’s teeth remind you of a very, very specific childhood trauma. But surely not everyone remembers the Great Nunshark Massacre of ’07 as clearly or as intimately as you do, poor child.

And yet, The Conjuring 2 has had, as of this writing, the 10th most successful domestic theatrical run for a horror film. (The same site puts the original Conjuring at #5.) Why in the world do people love this film so much?

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I don’t have any evidence to back this up–what am I, a professional film critic?–but I suspect that people love it for the same reason they love Insidious and a number of similar films from James Wan and/or Blumhouse Productions (Sinister, Paranormal Activity, Oculus, Annabelle): because it does not challenge them in any way, not in terms of its structure as a film, its specific “horror” content, its social or political messages (such as they are), or on any other level. The Conjuring franchise and all the others I just named are horror junk food: convenient, absolutely consistent, comforting. And importantly, for the studios, you can’t eat just one.

Really, while it sounds like I’m dumping all over the film and the studio and you kids today and your touch computers and your Tweets (and partly I am doing that), I’m also not doing that, because I’m an awesome guy.

I’m willing to admit, for example, that it can be fun to know precisely when the next “scary” thing will happen: it adds a certain Christmas-like anticipation. You know when it’s coming, almost to the second, and waiting for it is kind of exciting (even if the “scare” itself is a total letdown). And perhaps it’s fun for some people to watch a scary movie that isn’t really scary, particularly for people who don’t really define themselves as genre fans.

Even this year’s Lights Out, on which Wan was a producer and which I enjoyed well enough, followed the same basic patterns, telegraphed its scares, and felt very much a part of the recent trend in stripped-down Halloween-haunt-style horror films. By this I mean the stories basically consist of scary vignettes strung together by brief expository scenes, just like going through a staged haunted house. One scary setpiece to the next. [Edit: I used basically the exact same words to describe the first one. Swear to god I didn’t even realize it.]

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Now I’m imagining an empty chair, with only a greasy smear to indicate you were ever there at all.

The Conjuring 2 and its ilk are popcorn films, mindless entertainment with telegraphed jump scares and the most basic of basic plots, and that’s what people want from mainstream horror. And that’s okay. They’re not for me, but if people like them, I’m not in a position to judge. I hope filmmakers like James Wan will keep making movies and keep getting horror films on the blockbuster lists (and with his batting record there’s no reason for him to stop).

But I’m just not buying that these films are good films. They’re fine. They’re perfectly enjoyable in their way. But they’re not 10th-best-domestic-gross-of-all-time good, are they?

(No. Is the answer.)

2andahalfscoops

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6 thoughts on “I Have No Friends and Live to Alienate People: “The Conjuring 2” (2016)

  1. I was annoyed by the way any skeptic had to be a thug that wanted to debunk the hauntings just to piss in everyone’s Cheerios. There was an opportunity for some characters with interesting depth, but instead we get more good guys and bad guys. Maybe I’m just taking it personally because I would have been a bad guy for not buying what they were selling.

    Take my criticism with a grain of salt. Most of my favorite movies have little to no redeeming value.

    • Haha! No, I see your point–in these movies there’s often a weird skeptic/believer polarity, with the “good” side varying from film to film (but yeah, usually the skeptics are “bad”). This kind of makes sense, of course, in the context of supernatural horror–we, the audience, at least know the ghost is real and the skeptic characters gotta figure that shit out. But there’s seldom any nuance.

      Haha, Cheerios.

  2. This movie looked dreadfully pointless. I was really impressed by the first Insidious, and got on well enough with The Conjuring numero uno, but that’s probably down to their being total throwbacks to Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror, respectively, and making me feel all nostalgic and what-not.

    For the most part, I share in your snarky disenchantment with supernatural horror. Sinister was predictable, Oculus was a disappointment, Annabelle was so boring I almost died. Paranormal Activity was a pretty good one-time experience, but not worth re-watching more than once a decade — it was basically 2009’s The Blair Witch Project.

    What I hate the most is when these kinds of movies jizz out Sega Saturn money shots of their ghosts doing not-ghost-shit like crawling around sideways on walls and making clicky exhaling noises like reptiles and expect us to gobble it up. Ghosts ain’t finna be doin’ that.

    • YES. Upvote/like/favorite/Internet things. To the stuff you said. THUMB POINTING UPWARD.

      Your description of the first Insidious and Conjuring films is spot-on–I never thought of it in those terms, but you’re totally right. And I also actually did like the first Paranormal Activity, too. And even one or two of the sequels (especially the Japanese one).

      But my god, yeah, the “money shot” thing… It all becomes so gimmicky. It’s Darth Maul, or it’s a sharknun, or it’s a spider-walking… thing. A good Gothic is-that-shadow-slightly-darker-than-the-other-shadows/what’s-that-behind-the-velvet-curtain scenario would be so refreshing. I mentioned that I liked Lights Out okay, which I did, but that movie’s entire substance is a huge, improbable gimmick.

      Actually, FV, I’d be really interested to know what are your favorite all-time supernatural horrors. You must have some good obscure ones banging around. You should do a list. NUDGE.

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