It is hard to believe that The Conjuring 2 was made by the same man. The streamlined elements of the first have now given way to mind-numbing clutter. If before Wan stripped down each set piece to its essentials — a roving camera, a patch of darkness, a fearful face, paralyzing silence — now he has thuds and booms and shadows and shaking furniture and screaming characters all competing for our attention.
The first film had hinted that the next mission taken on by Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the real-life demonologists whose cases have inspired the series, would be the infamous Amityville haunting. The Conjuring 2 does kick off in the Long Island town, with a messy, violent and not particularly scary sequence of psychic Lorraine inhabiting the memories of a young man who killed his entire family. But it moves on instead to a similar haunting in Enfield, England (also, the filmmakers insist, inspired by real events) where single, impoverished mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four kids are contending with possessed rocking chairs, creaking swings, eerie tents and a zoetrope come to life. I won’t reveal too many details but to say that it appears that the ghost of a creepy old man is lurking about, insisting that the house is his.
Throughout the Hodgson family’s ordeal, Wan cuts repeatedly to the Warrens back in the States. We know they will eventually take on the case, but the film spends a comically long time getting to that inevitable development. Lorraine has had visions of Ed suffering a violent death, and the Warrens, shaken, have sworn off this kind of work. But our devout heroes can’t resist the call of a working-class family in need. When they finally make it to England, they find something of a media circus already developing around the Hodgsons, including a smug, naysaying parapsychologist (Franka Potente) determined to prove it’s all a hoax (boo, hiss, nonbelievers!), and a celebrity paranormal specialist (Simon McBurney) intent on finding life after death for personal reasons.
Horror — or good horror, at least — has to walk a fine line between variation and consistency. Too much of the same type of scare leads to tedium. But too many different kinds of attempts to shock, of the see-what-sticks variety, can also dissipate the mood and defuse tension, two elements critical to the genre. The Conjuring 2 somehow manages to be both repetitive and incoherent. It returns to the same setups over and over again, with diminishing returns. Yet it also throws such a variety of
I worried, at first, that Wan was trying too hard, but then I wondered whether he was trying at all. A minor, but telling example: When the story first jumps to England, we get a nauseatingly de rigueur blast of The Clash’s “London Calling,” which suggests that the director has either never seen another film that cuts to the U.K. or has seen too many of them and believes this music cue is an ironclad rule of filmmaking.
Still, there are some strong moments. Wilson brings a corny, credulous confidence to the part of Ed Warren, and a scene where he sings an Elvis song to cheer up the