The Conjuring 2 (2016)

James Wan delivers a chillingly worthy sequel to his 2013 demonic masterpiece, “The Conjuring,” with the continuing paranormal investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Following up on his 2013 box-office spook-tacular, “The Conjuring,” must have been a daunting task for director James Wan, and if his new film doesn’t quite reach the terrifying hysterics of the original, it’s not because Wan has delivered a quick cash-grab sequel (that guilty party was the Wan executive produced, “Annabelle”), but because his first film was so horrifically good.

The Conjuring 2” works not because it out shocks the original, although there are at least three or four good jump scares that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand at attention, but because the script presents psychic investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, as such likable, caring and courageous characters. There’s a love story that recounts the bond Ed and Lorraine share at the core of “The Conjuring 2” that’s as potent and compelling as the tale of demonic possession and violent spirits from beyond the grave that attack a single mother’s family in working class London.

We care about these characters, and much of that empathy is due to the charming and believable performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. It’s their chemistry that charms rather than dulls when Ed borrows a guitar sitting in the corner and does his best Elvis impersonation for the tormented family in the movie to relieve some of their sustained tension. One of the key plot threads in the story involves a vision Lorraine has in a trance that shows her Ed’s violent death.

That’s as close to Hell as I ever want to get,” she tells him.

Another key performance comes from Madison Wolfe as the demonically tormented Janet Hodgson, who seems to be the target of a malevolent entity who wishes to harm her family, and may also have sinister plans for our two protagonists across the pond. Wolfe is both perfectly convincing as an innocent young girl and chilling as the beast that speaks through her.

One of the creepiest scenes in the film involves Ed interviewing the spirit on tape in an attempt to get undeniable evidence that will allow the church to take over for an exorcism. The plan is to have Janet fill her mouth with water, making it impossible for her to fake the demon’s voice when speaking, but she tells the Warrens that the ghost will not speak with everyone staring at her. Everyone will need to turn their backs before it will answer their questions. Wan shoots the interview with Ed facing the camera and the girl out of focus in the background, creating a singularly unnerving sequence unlike anything we’ve seen before in one of these modern haunted house flicks and it’s staged completely in bright daylight.

“The Conjuring 2” opens with the Warrens investigating one of their most infamous cases in Amityville, New York, before introducing single mother, Peggy Hodgson, struggling to raise her four children in a ramshackle house in working class Enfield, London. When the poltergeist attack on her family becomes more than she can bare alone, she seeks solace from the church, who refuse to get involved without solid proof of demonic or supernatural activity.

Enter the Warrens. Lorraine is reluctant at first to open herself up to the forces of evil, having recently had a terrifying experience in Amityville with a malevolent entity dressed in a nun’s habit that seems to have followed her from Amityville back home and continues to haunt her dreams. This demonic nun is one of the creepiest characters I’ve ever seen in a horror film and will likely show up in my own nightmares for years to come.

The Conjuring 2” is not without its’ flaws. At 134 minutes, it pushes the limits of the audience’s tolerance for a Spook Show roller coaster, numbing the nerves at a certain point with perhaps a few too many loud noises on the soundtrack and sustained jump scare tactics. There are also a couple of sequences that rely too heavily on some dodgy CGI effects when the old school, practical stuff work much better in movies like this one. But because we’re invested in the characters when the furniture starts flying and the windows start breaking, the whole thing holds together to deliver a tension filled, spectacular climax.

In cinematic terms, I felt there were a couple of subplots and peripheral characters whose story threads seemed to be dropped with no narrative catharsis or resolution, but I can only speculate whether that occurred to avoid inflating the already burgeoning run time (and they’ll be included as “deleted scenes” on the Blu-ray/DVD version) or because the script is “based on a true story” and that’s just how things happened in 1977.

Nonetheless, “The Conjuring 2” delivers the scares when it counts and will likely please fans of the first film and newbies alike. Bring on more spooky adventures with Ed and Lorraine Warren!

The Phantom of The Ville

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