The Conjuring 2 (2016)
James Wan receives praise for the wrong thing. It seems every review of "The Conjuring 2" heaps praise upon Wan for his inventive jump scares -- often referring to those jumps as his calling card. It's undoubtedly true that Wan is one of the most imaginative directors in horror today, but that's not what makes him great.
No, what Wan has that seemingly no other horror director can grasp is empathy. Watching horror movies often devolves into some kind of sociopathic torture porn freak show, where demented minds reveal our own warts by leading us to root for a murderous man wearing a mask. The entire slasher film rests on the theory that you hate humanity, and by extension yourself.
Wan doesn't reject that theory so much as he dunks on it with the force of a LeBron James throwdown. Patrick Wilson said something interesting while on Late Night with Stephen Colbert: In "The Conjuring 2" you root for the good guys. What a novel thought.
You won't root for someone in a horror movie like you'll root for the Warrens. Played to perfection by Wilson and the absolutely phenomenal Vera Farmiga, it's so easy to root for the Warrens. You get a palpable sense of love between the two that you might not get from a drama, let alone from an R-rated horror film.
It extends beyond that, though. In both "The Conjuring 2" and its predecessor Wan gives you time with the terrorized families. This would be a colossal waste of screen time if not executed correctly, but in both films you develop an attachment to these people that you just don't in a run of the mill horror flick.
All this is what makes those jump scares so damn meaningful. As always, Wan finds a way to scare you that you haven't experienced before. Through the first tour of the Haunted House in question you can spot the places where Wan will get you later, but it never spoils the scares. The difference between horror and suspense is anticipation, and Wan weaves both together masterfully.
During the climax of the film, with the Warrens battling a spine-tingling nun-guised demon, you root for them the way you might root for a superhero. It's in these moments, with the two fighting together, for each other, for this family, that you experience the full spectrum of emotions. You're afraid of the monster, but not just for yourself -- you're afraid for the Warrens and for the family they're protecting.
This kind of emotional attachment doesn't happen in horror films, and it certainly doesn't happen in box-office-inspired sequels. But with "The Conjuring 2," Wan has proven his ability to give depth and emotion to its stars. Somehow, Wan turned the most famous paranormal investigators of all time into bonafide superheroes.
Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they wear crucifixes.