That scream. I’ll never forget that scream. It was an early screening at Warner Bros. screening room in Midtown Manhattan of the first The Conjuring back in 2013. For the duration of the film, probably every ten minutes or so, a high-pitched, piercing scream would come from somewhere behind me. (This caused enough of a ruckus that a colleague of mine sitting next to me kept giving me the “What the hell is going on?” look.) At first I thought it was a child, but then it started to sound more and more like Janet Leigh from Psycho. It was the sound of pure terror. Anyway, the movie ended, the lights came on, and the only person sitting behind me was a very burly man.
James Wan’s The Conjuring is the rare modern horror movie that doesn’t rely on jump scares. It sets a tone, as opposed to just dishing out loud noises at unexpected moments. For the life of me, I still don’t understand why people enjoy jump scare movies. I mean, look, most horror films – including The Conjuring and its upcoming sequel – are going to use loud noises. But there’s been a proliferation of overdoing this of late.
In The Forest, there’s a scene of a homeless man putting his hand on the window of a taxi – which, of course, is accompanied with a LOUD NOISE. Did I jump? A little. But it wasn’t fun. It was annoying. It’s the equivalent of getting a static shock when opening the front door. Just because something is a surprise doesn’t automatically make that surprise a welcome thing. It’s lazy. Most modern studio horror movies today are lazy. (There has been an uptick in indie horror.)
This is why I usually dread seeing horror movies. And even though I really enjoyed the first The Conjuring, I made an audible gasp when I was told of the sequel’s 134 minute runtime. A 90-minute horror film often feels like an eternity to me, now here’s one that is 2 hours and 14 minutes! So I’ll cut to the chase: The Conjuring 2 goes by extremely quickly for such a long film and is scarier than the first.
The first film had a lot of, let’s say, “safe scenes,” where you knew nothing scary was going to happen. In that film, we had to be introduced to the real life husband and wife paranormal investigative team of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Conjuring 2 doesn’t have to worry about such pleasantries, as the film opens in the thick of their involvement with the infamous Amityville house. (Honestly, this movie is so scary I may have covered my eyes for half the movie – yes, I’m one of those people – but even if that’s true, the movie is so long. I still saw about 70 minutes of it! I’m exaggerating, but not by a lot.)
Lorraine wants to retire because of a series of visions she’s having about Ed’s death. Yet, the two can’t refuse the temptation of investigating paranormal activity at a house in Enfield, just outside of London. (Which is also based on a true event that involves a “slender man”-looking creature that is creeping me out right now just thinking about it.) What a great concept for a series of horror films: So many of them are based around the villain – Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers – but there are only so many times that villain can come back before it descends into parody. But here, by following the Warrens, the Conjuring films could have an almost endless series of original movies with familiar characters. (It’s here I have to acknowledge the Annabelle spinoff film that somehow grossed a quarter of a billion dollars takes the opposite approach. Unfortunately, there’s a sequel to Annabelle being made.)
Does The Conjuring 2 have to be this long? Well, yes. Part of achieving its tone has a lot to do with the setup. Without that, the film would suffer. Okay, do we need to watch Patrick Wilson perform Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”? Well, maybe not. But it’s nice that The Conjuring 2 gives itself enough breathing room so that a scene like this could be included. There’s so much horror in this film, it has to be longer just to have a few scenes that aren’t scary.
There’s an energy in The Conjuring 2 that just keeps the film moving, despite its runtime. James Wan has been pretty vocal that shooting Furious 7 was not an enjoyable experience for a lot of reasons (beyond the off-set death of one of his stars). It’s obvious while watching The Conjuring 2 that Wan is back doing something he loves. We’ve all been there: When we try something new and it makes us realize what we loved so much about what we were doing before. That’s what The Conjuring 2 plays like: a labor of love. And with the epic runtime, it feels like James Wan set out to make his own personal horror masterpiece. And the thing is, he just may have pulled it off.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.