The Conjuring 2

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There’s really only one reason that a horror film doesn’t work, and it isn’t lack of originality or a reliance on genre tropes.  If the fear factor is missing, then forget it.

James Wan, the director of Saw and Insidious, knows damned well how to make a scary movie and proved it with his best film, 2013’s The Conjuring, a superior haunted house movie filled with bumps in the night and a truly terrifying possession, a masterful amalgam of atmosphere, suggestion and the demonic. The material was borne of classic haunted house movies, but it still managed to scare the daylights out of us.

Conversely, there is nothing particularly creepy about The Conjuring 2, featuring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprising their roles as real-life 70s parapsychologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who famously investigated such cases as Long Island’s famous Amityville haunting and the Perron farmhouse goings-on from the first movie.

With The Conjuring 2, the point is to create a movie franchise around the Warrens’ apparently plentiful case files, and the spectacular opening sequence of the installment finds the pair, whose marital bond is the strongest part of this film, conducting a séance at 112 Ocean Drive, the scene of the DeFeo family murders that later became known as the scene of The Amityville Horror.

Lorraine, able to commune with spirits on the other side, moves through the house (a nod to The Further, the spirit neverworld of Insidious) in the psyche of the teenaged killer, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., her body his surrogate while she witnesses the killings. In this very promising sequence, Wan uses the sound of gunshots, the motion of Farmiga’s jolted body and mirrored reflections to ingenious effect. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t sustain this sinister set-up.

The new case occurs just outside London, where a beleaguered single mother (Francis O’ Connor, excellent) and 4 kids in working class Endfield begin experiencing paranormal activity, it’s the children who first surmise something afoot. Of course, authorities accuse the terrified daughter (Madison Wolfe) of making it all up. But when the ominous voices, nighttime entities and levitating beds become nightly terrors, mom goes on television with a plea for help.

Meanwhile, a demonic presence Lorraine witnessed in Amity resurfaces, and she’s convinced its tied to her husband’s mortality. Understandably, she’s reluctant to get involved with another case.

At 134 minutes the picture is a long haul, and while the talented British actors work well with Wilson and Farmiga and the art-direction and cinematography are better than good, screenwriters Chad Hayes, Carey W. Haynes, Wan and David Leslie Johnson never manage to get beyond cheap jump scares or into truly dimensional characters.

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