Sequel to haunted-house thriller racks the nerves
Nothing else in “The Conjuring 2” is as terrifying as the 1977-era floral wallpaper lining the hallways of its dimly lit and plainly haunted North London flat, not to mention the fearsome edge on Patrick Wilson’s sideburns. But despite being saddled with 20 minutes it doesn’t need, the movie is a consistently nerve-wracking sequel to the even better 2013 haunted-house thriller directed by James Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”). He is a man who knows how to tee up a jump-scare.
The first “Conjuring” introduced fictionalized versions of the real-life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, played by Vera Farmiga and the aforementioned Wilson. The setting was a rural Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971, where the ghost of a long-dead witch made life difficult for the current residents.
“The Conjuring 2” catches up with the ghost chasers six years later. Hot off a notorious case in Amityville, N.Y., the Warrens travel to London at the Catholic Church’s behest to see if there’s anything to the rumor of the already-infamous Enfield poltergeist. Punk rock’s on the rise, Margaret Thatcher’s on the telly and the working-class interiors are decorated in what might be called Brackish Domestic Hell.
At first the exhausted but loving mother of four, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), has no rational reason to believe her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) when she reports strange movements and apparitions in her bedroom. Then the evidence becomes difficult to ignore, and the other chil- MPAA rating: R (for terror and horror violence) Running time: 2:14 Opens: Thursday evening dren, not to mention a couple of local police officers, see for themselves: chairs scooting across a kitchen floor; a backyard swing swinging on its own; and more demonically, the specter of the house’s former tenant (Bob Adrian), who died in the ratty old rocking chair in the living room corner. With stories like this, the phrases “living room” and “dying room” are more or less interchangeable.
There are other spooks and sources of terror, of course. Long before coming to London, Ed puts brush to canvas and paints a vision of a demon nun, who later becomes manifest in various forms (the best image: chalky-white demon fingers reaching out from behind the framed painting). Billy Hodgson’s favorite toy, a spinning “Crooked Man” zoetrope flashing images of a spindly legged creep, leaps off the tiny carousel wall and comes to life. The Enfield haunting becomes a wrestling match between the skeptics (Franka Po- tente of “Run Lola Run” plays parapsychologist Anita Gregory) and the believers (Simon McBurney, looking like Inspector Doppler from “Sleuth,” as paranormal expert Maurice Grosse).
The script by Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, David Leslie Johnson and director Wan packs a lot onto “The Conjuring 2.” It’s plainly too long, and the story rhythm is somewhat odd, taking time out for humanizing passages such as Wilson’s Ed serenading the Hodgson clan with “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on guitar and vocals. Wan’s film is, at heart, an uncynical embrace of family values. The marriage at the story’s center is a hardy and loving one. As with the first “Conjuring,” the horror, R rating notwithstanding, goes easy on the gore. Despite all the children in all that peril, Wan is a humane sort of sadist. His latest offers little that’s new, but the movie’s finesse is something even those who aren’t fans of horror can appreciate. Michael Phillips is a Tribune Newspapers critic.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as paranormal investigators in “The Conjuring 2.”