The Conjuring 2
(2016, James Wan)
[Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
[4 out of 5 stars]
With his camera, James Wan takes away the audience's sense of control - it's where the terror lies. He possesses full command of what you see or hear, or more horrifyingly, what he chooses to leave out.
THE CONJURING 2 is chock-full of cinematic tricks designed to make you feel immensely uncomfortable. Let's start with how he moves his camera. It behaves like someone who is as terrified and as curious as its audience. In one scene, a boy gets up in the middle of the night to get some water and a toy truck emerges on its own from his play tent. The boy, disturbed by this, runs back to the bedroom. The camera pans from left to right looking towards the tent and back behind the bedroom door frame as if it is drawn to and fearful of it. It makes you want to tell the camera to sit still. Other times it would focus intently towards a dark corner of the room, just waiting. It's a devious trick and damn does it work well.
The camera juggles between a space of terror and a space of confrontation. When the girl hides under the the covers it hides underneath with her. The camera is uncomfortably close and we suffocate in this space of terror. But when a character braves the horror, we are forced to confront it alongside them like a reluctant companion. Through the camerawork, Wan creates an intimacy between the audience and his characters. We share their fear intimately.
There’s also fantastic use of deep focus. It’s used to great effect in one scene shot in an excruciatingly long take. The blur suggests what is happening in the background. The unclear image paired with the agonisingly crisp sound design is sure to bring out the goosebumps.
When looked at closer, there’s not much innovation in terms of story or character but these are all packaged and served in a way that is refreshing.
Horror, as a genre, is manipulative. Wan understands this and cleverly employs as many tricks as he can to make us feel exactly how he wants us to feel. You admire him for his skill at the same time you despise him for making it feel like your heart will burst out of your chest.