The most telling aspect of The Conjuring two, the gonzo sequel to the 2013 horror smash, is that it really is 133 minutes lengthy. A operating time like that is a rarity—The Exorcist, at 132 minutes, may be the strongest analogue—because the genre draws intensity from concision, and its dread-soaked mysteries are not so very easily sustained over time. But director James Wan, who produced the seventh The Rapidly and the Furious entry in between the two Conjuring films, has figured out how to adapt the genre to the blockbuster age, when studios are batting for a residence run each time they step to the plate. This is no mere haunted property film. This is a tour through a giant, spring-loaded funhouse.
For evidence of Wan’s horror maximalism, appear no further than the opening sequence, which finds real-life ghostbusters Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren holding a seance at the famed Dutch Colonial in Amityville just before moving onto anything larger. Consider that for a moment: Scary happenings at the Amityville house—second only in horror iconography to the Bates home in Psycho, the subject of 14 films (and counting) and several performs of fiction, nonfiction, and semi-fiction—are a mere throat-clearing for The Conjuring 2. Wan’s last function had automobiles parachuting from a plane onto a mountain pass. This one particular has a space full of crosses that get twisted upside-down like a doorknob to the gates of hell. Like any director of a blockbuster sequel, he requires the mandate to top himself seriously.
The Conjuring 2 mainly justifies the bloat, simply because Wan’s style is wonderfully energized and nimble, with a camera that roves rapidly, often madly, toward danger and a restless escalation of stakes. He also has legitimately compelling lead characters in Ed and Lorraine, whose profession and marriage the motion pictures take seriously, even if the true world received them more skeptically. Following a vision at Amityville prophecies her husband’s death and brings a frightening new demon into her conscience, Lorraine insists they take a step back from active casework and act strictly as consultants rather. It does not come about, of course, but the depth of feeling in between them offers the supernatural threat more weight.
Seven years soon after Amityville, Ed and Lorraine are summoned to a modest old home in the London borough of Enfield, where single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Conner) and her four kids are besieged by a poltergeist. Peggy’s youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) has been haunted and sometimes possessed by an exceedingly cranky old spirit who wants the Hodgsons out of his residence. The Warrens are called in by the Church in an unofficial capacity, but as their skepticism falls away, their mission to assist the spiritually afflicted draws them into the fight.
As with The Conjuring and his two Insidious movies, Wan lifts from a generous smorgasbord of influences, combining the urban possession of The Exorcist and the multi-dimensional youngster abduction of Poltergeist with Spielbergian moments of humor and wonder. Never much for gore—even Saw, his intense-horror breakthrough, is much more about discomfort than plasma—Wan instead amplifies the scares with old-fashioned effects and a hyper-aggressive soundtrack. There are at least 5 or six full-physique shivers in The Conjuring two, and most of them come by means of jump-scares completed proper, with every single ghoulish surprise punctuated by blasts of unholy guttural noise.
There is nothing at all specifically distinctive about The Conjuring 2, which is more about repurposing old effects than adding new ones. (Its generic qualities extend to the music cues. When the action shifts to London, Wan cuts a montage to The Clash’s “London Calling,” which was recorded two years after the film takes location.) What it lacks in originality, however, it tends to make up in moxie. Wan turns the Hodgson residence into whirring gizmo of demonic effects—a self-propelled fire truck, a zoetrope come to life, a leather recliner of the damned—that never ever stops moving. It’s like the Hodgsons have taken up residence inside a shark’s mouth and the beast is relentlessly chewing. Wan brings the monster vividly to life, and in its scaled-up hokum, The Conjuring 2 charts a future for studio horror.