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Film review: "The Conjuring 2"

A frightful delight


I missed "The Conjuring" when it was released in theaters back in 2013, but caught up with it later once it hit the home market. It's a testament to the strength of director James Wan's vision and skill that even watching it in broad daylight, in the middle of the afternoon, it still made me leap off the couch on more than one occasion. Wan's follow-up, "The Conjuring 2," doesn't quite reach those same levels, but he's such an impeccable technician that his film still satisfies as a pulpy, old-fashioned haunted house thrill ride.

Based on another case from the files of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), "The Conjuring 2" picks up several years after the events of the first film. Once again, things start off with a prologue, this time the Warrens are in the midst of their investigation into the Amityville murders, the case in which the pair really made a name for themselves. The case takes a toll, though, and after Lorraine sees a vision of her husband's death, she becomes hesitant to continue on with their work. The fact that she's also started to be haunted by a terrifying demon in a nun's habit doesn't exactly help matters.

But of course another case arises, and she reluctantly agrees to travel with Ed to the North London borough of Enfield, where a single mother (Frances O'Connor) seeks help after strange things occur in her home. Soon after, her youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe), begins to exhibit signs of demonic possession. The case gained notoriety and considerable media attention at the time, and became known as England's Amityville.

While the original "The Conjuring" was a marvelous example of elegant, streamlined storytelling, the new film can sometimes feel overstuffed. With multiple supernatural entities jockeying for attention, the scares don't flow as organically this time around. Each spook is frightening in its own right, but they often seem to have little connection to one another. That splintered tone might also be the result of the film having a story credited to four different writers.

"The Conjuring" also distinguished itself with characters who weren't simply ciphers, giving them enough depth that they always felt like real, extremely frightened people. O'Connor is excellent, though her character can't help feeling a little thin compared to Lili Taylor's sympathetic matriarch in the first film. But it's the Warrens' relationship that's the heart of the franchise, and thanks to the committed performances of Farmiga and Wilson, it remains an effective one.

Wan made a name for himself in horror, directing the first "Saw" film and the "Insidious" movies, before making a detour into action filmmaking with "Furious 7" last year. There's a precision to his direction that's a joy to watch, no matter what the genre. Working with cinematographer Don Burgess, Wan's fluid camera movements make us feel as though we're seeing through the eyes of something unnatural. The camerawork may be showy, but it serves a purpose, giving us the idea that the camera is an entity unto itself.

Wan's once again demonstrates his command over horror movie tropes; he's nothing if not an expert at audience manipulation. Here he makes a little more use of the type of jump scares which the original kept to a minimum. Wan uses framing and sense of space to great effect, as characters constantly peer around corners and we shrink down in our seat, waiting for the inevitable scary faces to come flying out of the dark, accompanied by a crash on the soundtrack.

It works, but maybe it's the sheer number of exorcism films we've gotten over the years -- with each following the relatively same pattern -- that it starts to feel familiar, and there's a sense we've seeing the same old scares all over again. Though there aren't any moments here as instantly iconic as the first film's brilliant hide-and-clap sequence, there is a wonderfully tense scene involving a painting that comes awfully close.

With enough expertly orchestrated chills to please fans, "The Conjuring 2" is a worthy enough follow up to the original that I wouldn't mind at all if Wan decides to dust off another in the Warren's long line of spooky case files.