The first film was a whopping hit upon its release in 2013, making a ga-ga $320-million on a paltry $20-million budget; easily the most successful horror film of the year and even spawning a spin-off - ANNABELLE - produced by Wan and directed by his Conjuring cinematographer, John R. Leonetti.
It’s no surprise then that THE CONJURING 2 materialises a year later, striking while the iron is hot, to give us the continuing adventures of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). This time the action is shifted from small-town Americana Rhode Island 1971 to working-class Enfield, England 1977 where single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) believes a demonic spirit is haunting her home.
Before you can say ‘The Exorcist’ Peggy's youngest child starts showing signs of possession; speaking in tongues, lost memory, etc, and when the church finally gets involved so to, do the Warren’s. Ed and Lorraine zip to England and help the besieged family, only to find themselves targeted by the malicious spirit.
As far as design goes, Wan’s production is a handsomely mounted affair. The grimy England of the 70s is well realised - even if it does over-play the beige and brown colour palette - and the camerawork is second to none (with all-impossible maneuvers and wide-lens chaos) and Joseph Bishara’s score is suitably jangly.
As the Warren’s, Wilson and Farmiga maintain cruise control, never stepping outside of comfort to given us more wide-eyed determination, but that’s okay because that’s where we need them. Frances O’Connor turns it up to 11, bordering on caricature as the ‘cor blimey’ Mum at her wits end and spends great portions of the film with her hands over her mouth. Franke Potente turns up and is completely wasted as the disbeliever with very little to do.
Thankfully the scare sequences are impeccably staged, paced perfectly to the exact beat, which drains the viewer of resistance before launching the next jolt.
Wan has proven time and time again he is a fan of the genre, tipping his hat in each of his films to the inspirations that have come before him, and that’s the problem, because as good as his craftsmanship is (and it really is) we’ve seen it all before.
THE CONJURING 2, much like it’s predecessor, doesn’t have an original idea in it’s haunted head. The story is a heart-beat from THE EXORCIST and even some of the sequences in it’s (very long) 134-minute running time have almost been lifted from the first film.
This sequel's lighter moments are hamstrung by banal dialogue and awkward family bonding moments (singing around a guitar one night…) which is a crying shame because these are where - if done right - THE CONJURING 2 could have been elevated from chiller-with-family-elements to character-drama-that-happens-to-be-scary.
Not catastrophic then, but like we said, not the sum of it’s parts either.