To prepare you for #3, these reviews of the first two are from me.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” the third chapter of the franchise, starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, premieres in theaters and on HBO Max this week, so I’ve taken the liberty of revisiting the first movie and examining its sequel for the first time. All these movies are based on the true lives of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who help people fight off the demons that terrorize them. This franchise, known as The Conjuring Universe, has sparked some prequels and spin-off, particularly the “Annabelle” films, “The Nun,” and “The Curse of La Llorna,” all of which I disliked.
Unlike those films I’ve mentioned, the original “Conjuring” from 2013 was frightening and original with a story so complex and challenging that it reminded movie-goers about why horror films were made to begin with. Farmiga is Lorraine and Wilson is Ed, both of which come across a Jersey family, who just moved into a Rhode Island house in 1971. Lili Taylor and Ron Livington played the parents Carolyn and Roger, while Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver were their five daughters.
We’re in an age of jump-scares, but unlike some of the dumbest and noisiest of the genre, the first “Conjuring” wisely used the scares to capture audiences into its world. Add some dazzling special effects and some riveting cinematography, and director James Wan presents the movie almost the way William Friedkin did with “The Exorcist.” Farmiga and Wilson are both excellent as the Warrens, and Taylor is well cast as the mother in danger. Why can’t those prequels and spin-offs be as intelligent and threatening as this one? Even the end credits are chilling.
Now, we come on to the second film, which I skipped in 2016, due to a cleanse of mine. But this year, I’ve decided to examine it, and while it doesn’t exceed the first movie’s expectations, it still takes its chances and delivers. This time, we find Lorraine asking Ed to take a break from doing more cases, after she sees a premonition during a seance regarding a murdered family. Next, we meet the Hodgson family in London, as they deal with one demonic attack after another.
Among the new additions to the cast, Simon McBurney plays British paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse; Frances O’Connor is the single mother Peggy; Madison Wolfe plays the main daughter Janet, who gets possessed by an old man named Bill Wilkins, who died in their house; and Franka Potente (“Run Lola Run”) plays the parapsychologist Anita Gregory, who thinks the family is making the whole paranormal activity up.
Lorraine agrees to investigate the situation with Ed, as long as they don’t get too close to the situation. Of course, they still have to save the family, but this time, the challenges are between faith and cynicism.
When I saw the trailer with the crucifixes going upside down, I would like to consider the devil flipping us off, which is why I made sure mine can’t. That’s what Janet sees, along with the old man and a demon known as the Crooked Man, who isn’t CGI but an actor in editing and slow motion effects. And in various parts of this sequel, Lorraine sees visions of a demon nun.
“The Conjuring 2” lacks the originality of the first film with its cynicism, but it still provides the performances and terrors that made us want this sequel. The acting from the newcomers McBurney, O’Connor, and Wolfe are as exceptional as the two leads, and I admire the London atmosphere and setting. This was actually much better than I expected it to be, and I regret skipping this in theaters years ago. But that’s in the past; now we’re in the present.
Both these movies were directed by James Wan, who allows Farmiga and Wilson to portray the Warrens with the right intentions. But more importantly, they don’t rely on all those obligatory and noisy jump-scares to tell a story. They rely on the pure evils to frighten the families, and the redemptions to allow our heroes to save them. And the special effects for the levitating people and demons are almost as entertaining as the tone and thrills.
Will “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” rank with these two entries or aggravate me like their prequels and spin-offs did? That’s a question that will have to wait until tomorrow. Until then, you see to see the first two movies to warm you up, that is if you can handle horror films.