James Wan’s 2013 supernatural chiller The Conjuring was jammed with giddy white-knuckle scares and joy-buzzer shocks, but the film’s biggest surprise was how it managed to goose new life into a genre as creaky as the haunted house flick. Now, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s husband-and-wife paranormal sleuths, Ed and Lorraine Warren, have dipped back into their cobweb-festooned case files and emerged with The Conjuring 2—a come-down that proves the time-honored law of diminishing returns.
At least 30 minutes too long, the first half of the film cuts back and forth between the Warrens, who are wrestling with the spiritual toll that all of their faith-based ghostbusting has taken on them, and the Hodgson family in North London whose ramshackle home is possessed by a specter that takes the form of both a wheezy old codger with grimy dentures and a kabuki-faced wraith in a nun’s habit. Testing the audience’s patience, Wan and his writing team spin their wheels for more than an hour just building up to the Warrens’ arrival in England in 1977. Unfortunately, the setting is first introduced by The Clash’s “London Calling”, which didn’t come out until 1979. Anachronisms aside, when the couple gets there, they find a reheated buffet of Exorcist cliches: furniture that moves of its own accord, crucifixes that won’t stay rightside up, and an innocent 11-year-old girl (Madison Wolfe) speaking in a demonic Linda Blair voice.
There are some solid scares (Wan is too gifted in the dark art of gotcha manipulation to not make you leap a few times), but there’s nothing on par with the first film’s brilliant hide-and-clap scene with Lili Taylor. If there’s going to be a Conjuring 3—and this movie is just decent enough to suggest there will be—our heroes should be a little choosier about which case they dust off next. B-