“The Conjuring” debuted in 2013 to widespread critical acclaim. The James Wan-directed horror flick focused on famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively. 2016 follow up “The Conjuring 2” brings all the atmospheric spookiness of the original, instilled with a renewed vigor and fresh setting. A taut script, masterful cinematography, and gripping ambiance boost “The Conjuring 2” past its solid predecessor.
Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren have risen in popularity and notoriety after their extensive paranormal investigations, notably at Amityville in 1976. Despite their recent success, the couple struggles; Ed with the criticism from skeptics, and Lorraine by visions of a demonic nun (Bonnie Aarons) and premonitions of Ed’s demise. Meanwhile, in London, England Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), and children Janet (Madison Wolfe), Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Johnny (Patrick McAuley), and Billy (Benjamin Haigh) are victims of strange happenings. Initially, these manifest as possibly mundane events; Janet sleepwalks, Billy’s toys seemingly spring to life.
Paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and Anita Gregory (Franka Potente) present differing opinions as to the legitimacy of the events, and once again, the Catholic Church calls in Ed and Lorraine. At first, Lorraine and Ed fail to tap into anything supernatural, but eventually they discover the true demonic origins afflicting the Hodgson family.
“The Conjuring 2” is a throwback horror flick, relying more on practical effects, cinematography, and atmospheric elements to present its thrills. Even the opening title card, a black background with yellow lettering displaying “The Conjuring 2” feels plucked from the ‘70s. The camera work is masterful; there’s the perpetual sense that a sinister entity lurks just outside the frame. Several well-executed jump scares pepper the film, despite being scripted these still manage to surprise. For the most part, CGI use is minimal, which works well and lends a realistic vibe.
A detailed setting further enhances the atmosphere. The wardrobe and props aptly capture the 1977 ambiance, and rooms are laden with furniture and toys that seem as if they may become animated at any moment. Dialogue drives much of the plot, even when there are demonic forces at work. Superb writing, and natural charisma from returning stars Wilson and Farmiga, perpetuate the narrative at a brisk but natural pace. Newcomer O’Connor doesn’t quite capture the tour de force emotional performance of Lili Taylor from “The Conjuring,” but she plays the distraught mother well. There’s even a bit of well-placed dry humor, such as Lorraine calming Ed down after a television interview, a very British pair of police constables, and a few plot twists.
Yet under the polished veneer of “The Conjuring 2” is a heavily scripted formula. The sequel mimics its 2013 forerunner closely, and is chock full of tropes. Creepy toys? Check. Mirror? Check. Spooky basement? There’s that too. Self-rocking chair? Yep. There’s not much new brought to the genre, with the third act quite reminiscent of 1973 classic “The Exorcist,” with traces of films such as “The Omen” and “The Amityville Horror.” It’s not merely the era that ties to these films, but the cinematography and onus on set design and camera. Though “The Conjuring 2” may not be a groundbreaking genre entry, it’s a film that successfully relays a gripping ghost story and pulls off the difficult feat of several jump scares. Ultimately, James Wan’s sequel manages to outperform its excellent predecessor for a fun, frightful thriller.