Despite the red flag warnings of being a horror-movie sequel or the tagline “based on a true story” attached to it, don’t be fooled: “The Conjuring 2” serves up another well-crafted spook story culled from the real-life casework of married ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren that continues to elevate this burgeoning franchise through James Wan’s expert direction and Patrick Wilson (“Insidious,” “Little Children”) and Vera Farmiga’s (“The Departed,” “Up In The Air”) strong performances as the Warrens.
If you haven’t seen Wan’s 2013 film “The Conjuring,” you won’t be put out by not knowing what’s going on in “The Conjuring 2”: each film depicts individual cases from the Warrens’ paranormal investigations from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. What you will miss, however, is the continuation of the loving foundation Wilson and Farmiga established in the first film for Ed and Lorraine’s relationship and the building emotional portrayal of the strain that battling evil spirits can have on a marriage. Not unlike watching William Powell and Myrna Loy solve mysteries in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s “Thin Man” film series playing Nick and Nora Charles, Wilson and Farmiga generate an equally comparable married-couple chemistry that lends the “Conjuring” films a heart unseen in most horror films.
Five years after the events of the original “Conjuring”(the Warrens duking-it-out with demons plaguing the Parron family in 1971 Rhode Island), “Conjuring 2” begins with the Warrens’ 1976 summoning to see what evil may lurk in the house at 112 Ocean Ave. in Amityville, NY- yes, it’s that house. Lorraine (Farmiga) is a clairvoyant and, while staging a séance-like setting in the house, mentally walks through the DeFeo family murders that took place there two years prior to reach the demonic source that may be scaring the new family of occupants. What she encounters is a malevolent spirit, dressed in a nun’s habit and looking an awful lot like rocker Marilyn Manson, who shows Lorraine the untimely death of her husband Ed (Wilson). Understandably shaken by this vision, Lorraine publically acknowledges the demonic presence but hides seeing Ed’s demise even from Ed. As each of these unholy encounters takes a physical toll on Lorraine, the Warrens report their findings to the church and Ed gently takes his weakened wife back home to rest and recoup.
When Ed begins painting the vision of the nun-demon that only Lorraine has seen, she begins to worry. Lorraine’s concern deepens when the church asks the Warrens to visit a house in Enright, England on a request from the Vatican to helm a 3-day observe-and-report mission to see whether the house on Green Street is indeed a haunting (heralded as England’s Amityville) or a hoax. Despite the danger, you can’t keep good demonists down or dissuade them from their purpose- so “across the pond” the Warrens go.
“Conjuring 2” offers more of the same supernatural stunts that the original “Conjuring” conjured up- objects moving and doors opening and closing on their own, weird noises, unexplained overnight physical bruising discovered by the haunted house’s waking occupants- but you won’t care that it’s familiar. Director Wan (“Saw,” “Insidious”) explains the familiarity by showing actual case photos from the Warrens’ 1977 Enright investigation during the end credits (apparently, these phenomenon are the common modus operandi of all malevolent spirits) and the film shows that Wan knows how to frame frights and use sound mixing to its best advantage. The fact that these recreated events really happened make “Conjuring 2,” like its predecessor, all the more unnerving.
The devil is in the details; Wan proves that with an impressive eye-for-detail that make the “Conjuring” films memorable (you see it in his set design for the 1977 Enright home as compared to the images in the end credit photos). But the real thrill in Wan’s “Conjuring” thrill rides is Wilson and Farmiga. As the Warrens, these two actors prove (particularly in “Conjuring 2”) that if home is where the heart is, they are the unique and caring core to the “Conjuring” films’ otherwise coldly haunted houses.