Three summers ago, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema scored one of the biggest hits in horror history with The Conjuring, a movie that vaulted into the company of The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project as one of the highest-grossing supernatural films of all time. Turns out there’s a lot more to the real-life tales of ’70s-era paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga): The series is now poised to leap from sleeper smash to successful franchise (and one of the most anticipated summer movies) with the equally compelling The Conjuring 2, in which the pair heads to London to clean haunted house. Here’s why these films stand out among the best new horror movies.
Why the Conjuring movies stand out
Vera Farmiga rocks.
As Lorraine, Farmiga shares top billing with Wilson, who plays her ghost-busting husband. But in The Conjuring 2 especially, it’s Farmiga who does the most emotional heavy lifting, and the Oscar-nominated actor tackles the role with all the commitment she would bring to a more “serious” one.
They’re like 3-D but without the glasses.
Nobody does scary foreground-background compositions like director James Wan (Saw, Insidious), whose use of depth in his frames marks him as one of the horror genre’s most chilling stylists. The first half of The Conjuring 2, in particular, has shots you’d swear you could step into—or that something really nasty could lurch out of.
Location, location, location.
Wan and his team successfully turned the first film’s expansive rural farmhouse into a solid-feeling den of horror, and his prowling camera does the same for a cramped British apartment in The Conjuring 2. The change of continents helps freshen things up, with obvious signifiers (The Clash’s “London Calling” on the soundtrack, barmy and wanker in the dialogue) giving way to a deeper, vivid sense of working-class reality.
These films class up the genre with money.
The trend over the last decade has been toward modestly budgeted, cost-effective horror movies—and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The Warrens’ saga, however, is healthily financed: For the sequel, Wan brought onboard cinematographer Don Burgess, a frequent Robert Zemeckis collaborator (Forrest Gump, Flight), resulting in a lush look that’s keyed toward eliciting a palpably ominous atmosphere.
There’s room for a little mirth.
Wan and his writers slipped moments of sneaky humor into The Conjuring, leavening the growing dread without diffusing it. For the follow-up, huge tension-relieving laughs are elicited not once but twice simply by having the family—and then a couple of cops—behave as anyone in the audience would: getting the hell out of the house.
The series loves to feed the rumor mill.
Any occult fright fest worth its salt has jolts happening behind the scenes, most infamously on Poltergeist, a movie equally known for its “curse.” For The Conjuring 2, the filmmaking team took no chances, hiring a Roman Catholic Church–sanctioned exorcist to bless the shoot before cameras rolled last September. Insurance or good PR? We think both.