If "The Conjuring" was a chilling whisper, the sequel is a deafening shriek. That might not be a bad thing for some, but the shock jumps and cheesy-looking demons in "The Conjuring 2 "was a definite departure from the first, and not necessarily for the better. The brilliance of director James Wan's elegant original film was how it used our own horror savvy against us.
He'd allow for a long take of a terrified girl peering under her bed and let it stay there long enough to the point where your muscles start to tense. You instinctively brace for the shock that you know is coming ... and then ... nothing. At that point a creepy face or a loud knock on the door wasn't actually needed. The suspense was more than sufficient. The audience was already petrified.
"The Conjuring 2," however, goes all out. It's even louder, somehow. And there are more demons, more jump scares, more creepy antique toys and, thankfully, more Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the most delightfully campy couple of supernaturally sensitive marrieds ever to grace the screen. They're like everyone's favorite Sunday School teachers - she's the earthy one, he's the groovy one. You know they've seen some darkness, too, but then Ed grabs a guitar and starts crooning "Can't Help Falling in Love" and you forget all about the demon spirit lurking in the tattered leather armchair in the corner of the living room.
Heck, the cranky dead man in the corner terrorizing a working-class family outside of London probably even enjoyed Ed's Elvis impersonation, too. Oh, right, there's a cranky dead man in the corner because this is a horror movie and not just a quirky romance about the Warrens.
Highly documented case
The story deals with the Enfield Poltergeist - a highly documented 1977 case about a single mother, Peggy Hodgson (played here by Frances O'Connor); her four children; and the strange and terrifying happenings in their small home. As with most stories about haunted houses, it starts small - bumps and voices and knocks, mysterious bites and sheets that fly off of children in the middle of the night - and escalates quickly to demonic possession of an 11-year-old girl, Janet (Madison Wolfe), by a 72-year-old Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian).
This time, though, the Warrens have their own issues. In a prologue about the Amityville murders, Lorraine sees something that scares her so deeply, she has no choice but to put her foot down and demand that she and Ed stop this business of paranormal investigation. They can do the lecture and the press circuit, sure, but no more of this getting inside heads.
Meanwhile, the whole industry of paranormal investigation is being picked apart by naysayers in the press, so when the Enfield situation springs up, the Catholic Church basically asks the Warrens to go ahead and try to get proof first to save the church from another embarrassing hoax situation. While interesting, the constant skepticism and wavering trust also work to dull the fun of the scares. Is the audience supposed to doubt little Janet, too? It's never really clear. The film is also way too long and the tricks end up feeling a little repetitive and obvious, although there's a really great sequence in the Warrens' home with a creepy picture that Ed painted.
The horror sequel is a tough thing to pull off in general, and "The Conjuring 2" is most certainly one of the better efforts. The case files of the Warrens should provide some wickedly fun material for many sequels to come. But, for better or worse, the first movie was just too good and "The Conjuring 2" can't hold a candle to its predecessor. "The Conjuring 2," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "terror and horror violence." Running time: 133 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. - AP