The Conjuring was one of the best horror films in recent memory, a fresh and inspired twist on haunted houses and demonic possessions that raked in $318 million worldwide on a modest budget of $20 million. After a mediocre (but still successful) spinoff about an evil doll, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are back to challenge another spectre from the other side.
The film opens in the legendary Amityville house, where Ronnie DeFeo claimed a demonic presences coaxed him into carrying out a series of brutal murders, and where the Lutz family was driven away by paranormal experiences less than a month after setting in. During a séance that finds her re-enacting the DeFeo killings, Lorraine encounters a terrifying apparition, a grotesque creature with piercing yellow eyes dressed in nun’s habit that shows her a premonition of her husband’s violent death.
The Warrens opt to take a much-deserved break from accepting new cases, but it’s not long before the church comes knocking. Across the pond, a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are being tormented by their home’s previous inhabitant, an elderly man who died long before the family moved in. Afraid that the whole thing might be an elaborate hoax, the church beseeches the Warrens to verify the authenticity of the haunting, and the couple agree to take the job against Lorraine’s better judgment.
The Warrens arrive to find that the target of this spirit’s rage is 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe), whose terrifying experiences include teleporting around the home, levitating, and speaking with the gravelly voice of a 72-year-old man who demands that these strangers get the hell out of his house. The local media may be skeptical of the family’s story, but the Warrens are convinced that this haunting is real – they just aren’t fully equipped to deal with it on their own.
The scares are frequent in The Conjuring 2, with director James Wan making full use of the crumbling home and its dark corners to whip the audience into a frenzy, and even the most innocuous items – such as a toy fire truck or an antique zoetrope – become instruments of terror. Wan also plays with audience expectations to great effect – he knows that we’re familiar with the typical frights found in haunted house flicks, and he takes great pleasure in catching us off guard by changing the playbook.
But there are some moments where Wan reaches too far, such as the inclusion of a fully CG apparition whose spindly arms and legs and surprisingly unpolished animation make it look as though it somehow escaped from The Nightmare Before Christmas. This creature pops up a handful of times during the second half of the film, and looks so unapologetically preposterous that it’s nearly impossible to be intimidated by its presence. The film itself also overstays its welcome, clocking in at an unnecessary 133 minutes – a full 20 minutes longer than the original Conjuring – that could easily have been trimmed down to something a bit more reasonable.
With its impressive production design, frequent thrills and chills, and charismatic leads, The Conjuring 2 is a worthy follow-up to the original film that never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor. Audiences hoping for another horror masterpiece may walk away disappointed, but anyone looking for a frightful evening at the theater should find plenty to love here.