Face-Off: The Conjuring vs. The Conjuring 2

Back again, lovers of the macabre? If the last Face-Off didn't make you feel like repenting for the crime of watching this cinematic cock-fight, then this one will certainly make you fear for your very soul. It's demons, dolls, and hauntings galore as we combat the two horror juggernauts, THE CONJURING and THE CONJURING 2.

This last weekend saw THE CONJURING spin-off ANNABELLE: CREATION dominate the box office, proving that a horror movie universe is more than feasible...and not to mention insanely profitable. But the flagship of the series will always be THE CONJURING movies, and these first two really raked in the bucks and the praise. James Wan made haunted houses terrifying again, and in the process created a potentially billion-dollar franchise. But this is not a pat-on-the-back-cake-and-pie party; this is a battle to the death. Which of these two horror fests is the most pants-wettingly worthy?

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron
Ron Livingston as Roger Perron
Mackenzie Foy as Cindy
Joey King as Christine
Shanley Caswell as Andrea
Hayley McFarland as Nancy
Joseph Bishara as Bathsheba
Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren
Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson
Frances O'Connor as Peggy Hodgson
Simon McBurney as Maurice Grosse
Franka Potente as Anita Gregory
Bonnie Aarons as The Nun
Bob Adrian as Bill Wilkins
Javier Botet as The Crooked Man
James Wan kicked off his mainstream career by introducing the world to the SAW franchise, directing the first entry in the series. His follow-up work didn't quite make the same impact, delivering forgettable fares such as DEAD SILENCE and the Kevin Bacon movie DEATH SENTENCE. He came roaring back though with the haunted house movie INSIDIOUS, which then led to his best-reviewed work yet, THE CONJURING. Wan showed an artistry he hadn't demonstrated in previous work, concocting a tense atmosphere by using minimalist techniques and interesting camera angles to turn this woodland home into something ripped out of a nightmare. He explores all the creepy nooks and crannies of the home, showcasing the rustic look by placing cameras in strategic points so entire rooms could be filmed. He also injected a sense of humanity by focusing so much on the characters at the center of the horror, painting a Spielbergian portrait of ordinary people up against otherworldly odds. The first CONJURING is a terrific example of fine horror directing and makes you wonder where this talent was with his earlier films.
Wan continued to demonstrate a fine sense of aesthetic with CONJURING 2, avoiding the pitfalls that made INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 a nightmare, and not the fun kind that a horror movie is supposed to be. He kept the elements that made the first CONJURING work so well, but if there is any downside to his work is that he seemed to be limiting himself in places he shouldn't have, and then went too big when it was probably unwise. There are plenty of moments where Wan makes use of quiet, chilling mood to deliver big scares, but he too often relies on characters like the Nun and the Crooked Man to show off some expensive, CGI-created scares. Crooked Man often looked too silly to be scary, and though the Nun is horrifying to behold so much exposure made looking at her easier and easier. As for the setting, whereas the home in CONJURING made for plenty of natural scares, Wan keeps the action mainly focused on two stagnant locations: Janet's room and the living room. He ventures other places, but the house is less of a character this time, which by the end made the horror less affecting.
After a happy family moves into their brand-new dream house, they soon discover that the home – much like any domicile located in the middle of the woods – is haunted by a vengeful spirit. Soon the evil entity begins to terrorize the family, leading them to seek out the help of famed paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The duo brings their expertise and spiritual insight to the aid of this poor family, but what they encounter is more terrifying and grizzly than anything they’ve experienced before...and that includes the Annabelle doll.
A happy family lives in their...house...and all of a sudden they soon discover that the home – much like any domicile located in quiet areas of England – is haunted by a vengeful spirit. Soon the evil entity begins to terrorize the family, possessing a young girl, leading them to seek out the help of famed paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The duo brings their expertise and spiritual insight to the aid of this poor family, but what they encounter is sometimes just as terrifying and grizzly as what they experienced with the last family.

Annabelle Intro

Meet the Warrens

Meet the Perrons

Leave the Dog Alone!

The Room Requirement From Hell

Ed: "Sometimes it's better to keep the genie in the bottle."

The Haunting Begins

The Ghost Plays the Clapping Game

Something Grabs Christine/"...It's looking right at us..."

Christine: "It talked to me. It said it wants my family dead!"

Carolyn Wanders the House...Alone!

Demon "Leaps" Into Action

The Warrens Arrive

Bathsheba Hangs Loose...From a Tree

The History of the House

Late Night Investigation 1

The Witch Attacks Carolyn

Late Night Investigation 2

Ghost Gal: "Look what she made me do!"

Trapped in the Basement

The Demon Attacks the Warren Home

Annabelle in the Rocking Chair

The Possession of Carolyn

The Exorcism

A Happy Ending

The Amityville Intro/Meet the Nun

Lorraine: "This is as close to Hell as I ever wanna get."

Meet the Hodgsons

Billy: "Biscuits!"

The First Night: Janet is transported/A knock at the door

Channeling the Voice of Bill

Bill: "This is my house!"

Playing with Billy/Something in the Tent

Janet Home Alone/TV Time

Poltergeist Kicks Things Up a Notch

An Interview with Janet/Bill Wilkins

The Nun Returns to the Warren House

The Warrens Back in Action

The Crooked Man comes to life

An Interview with Janet/Bill Wilkins Pt. 2

Trapped on the Ceiling

The Turning of the Crosses

Terror in the Basement

A Hoax Revealed?

The Nun is in Control

Ed Heads to his Doom

Lorraine vs. The Nun

Another Happy Ending
Most of the terror comes at the hand of Bathsheba, the evil witch who haunts the home. She has the ratchety, unbathed spinster look to her that, along with some creepy makeup, make her a horror to behold. The scene where Wan zooms in on her hiding on the wardrobe is one of the movies most haunting shots and caused gasps when it was shown in the trailers. She's basically it when it comes to demon goons, though. There are some other undead figures roaming about, like the young Dutch boy who shows up in the mirror when anyone plays with that strange toy. Other than that it's just a few ghostly people covered in white makeup...much like vaudevillian actors.
Wan upped the stakes in a lot of ways for the sequel, the most notable being the inclusion of future spin-off subjects the Nun and the Crooked Man. Terrifying at first glance (and not when overused) the Nun is an absolutely ghastly sight and will be the perfect subject for her own movie. On top of these figures, there's the ghost of the house, Bill Wilkins, who sounds like your typical surly, chain-smoking, angry Englishman...so scary as all hell. His appearance, especially when Wan smash-cuts to his face when Janet is playing with the TV, is shocking and worthy of a "holy [email protected]!" reaction.
“HOLY [email protected]!” POWER
Wan does an expert job of building up the tension before capitalizing with a perfect jump scare. A perfect example of this is the beginning of the film, when we open on a close-up of Annabelle, and then listen with unease as the young women tell their story of the cursed doll, which hits a peak when they discover the doll has been writing things all over the wall, and ultimately hitting its big "jump moment" with a loud bang on the door. There are tons of moments like this, such as when a young Christine tries looking under her bed for...something, all before seeing a ghostly being in the dark corner. Then BANG - the door is slammed shut. Wan builds to the terror with confidence and then keeps the mood tense even after the big scare comes. It's like being told an excellent ghost story from your cool uncle, and he knows just when to grab your arm and scream "BOO!" If you're like me, you blame all your nightmares and trust issues on memories like that.
Wan performs as aptly in the second movie, but just like the first movie, the opening scene sets the stage for Wan's style for the rest of the film. In this case, it's the Warrens investigating the Amityville haunting, with Lorraine in a trance, going through the house and stepping into the deranged shoes of the man who killed his family. As Lorraine moves through the house there are plenty of ghost children and the Nun to act as the main drivers for scares. This goes to show Wan felt like he needed to step things up this time, which often meant big, relentless jump scares. These are often more effective than not, but after a certain point, it means truly atmospheric tension is left on the sidelines.
Though the family in peril gets most of the exposure, the actual subject of this movie is the Warrens themselves. In this first movie, they get a basic introduction as two people who want nothing more than to help people experiencing some sort of paranormal crises. They are shown as intelligent, thoughtful people who have doubts and fears of their own. They're not just "the experts" brought in to wave some sort of device around and look for puffs of ghost-smoke. Farmiga and Wilson are get together and do an excellent job at making these characters relatable, which is something that harkens back to THE EXORCIST.
Here the Warrens get the same level of exposure, but the love between them is more richly explored. As a deathly vision Lorraine had of Ed slowly comes life, with the Nun acting as the puppet master, the gravity of what these two put themselves through (in the movie world at least) really begins to settle in, and the danger is hence more palpable. A whole other layer to them is peeled off, and there's even some skepticism that arises when they're presented with evidence that this all could be a hoax. Their limits are tested, and the experience of watching these two (and the actors playing them) is more rewarding.
Golden Schmoes:
    Best Horror Movie (Won)
    Biggest Surprise (Nom)
Praise Money:
    $137 million domestic ($318 million global)
Golden Schmoes:
    Best Horror Movie (Nom)
Praise Money:
    $102 million domestic ($320 million global)
THE CONJURING 2 is a mostly successful follow-up, even if it follows many of the same beats as the first and only improves over the first in one or two ways. The main problem is where Wan decides to put his scares. Where he could have played more (the setting and family dynamics) he limits himself, and where he should've maintained a minimalist approach he went too big. No doubt it's still scary, but compared to the sheer terror Wan was able to extract from THE CONJURING's creepy premise, and even more haunting setting, it just can't help but suffer from sequelitis. THE CONJURING is just too perfect a combination of small-scale terror, heart-clenching jump scares, eerie music and ghostly atmospherics to be outdone by a follow-up. Not to mention the ensemble is terrific, and the actors are the icing on this adult-geared horror cake that has nothing else on its mind but serving up terror and scaring the living daylights out of the audience. Job well done.

If you don't believe me, rewatch the film's teaser trailer and then try to say it doesn't do the trick



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