The Conjuring 2

(2016) * 1/2 R
133 min. Warner Brothers. Director: James Wan. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente.

/content/films/4925/1.jpgThe Conjuring franchise ships off to not-so-merrie old England in The Conjuring 2, where the latest victims of haunting speak in slightly more convincing working-class tones than Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. When there’s somefin your neighbor’ood...’oo you gonna call? Ed and Lorraine Warren, of course: the real-life paranormal investigators played, again, by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. That rare modern horror franchise with recurring heroes doubles down on celebrating the Warrens’ rock-solid marriage, lending a bit of human warmth to the chilliness of haunted-house scares.

Set in 1977, six years after the events of the first film, The Conjuring 2 kicks off with a summarized version of the Warrens’ best-known case: the New York state mass murder that inspired The Amityville Horror. In her psychic crime-scene investigation, Lorraine runs into a creepy demon, a.k.a. “inhuman spirit,” in nun drag. The encounter kicks off a ghost harassment that dovetails with the film’s principal “Based on the true story” plot: “the haunting of Enfield,” a London borough. The Hodgson family comprises single mum Peggy (Frances O’Connor of “The Missing”); 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe); Margaret (Lauren Esposito), 14; Johnny (Patrick McAuley), 10; and Billy (Benjamin Haigh), 7. Their unwelcome houseguest? 72-year-old Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), who died in a living room chair and wants his council home back to himself. To drive away the family, he employs the usual prankish poltergeist tricks (bashing furniture around the place) and ye olde possession of the hapless Janet, who begins sleepwalking and even teleporting under the influence of the old bugger.

Despite a resolve to maintain a sabbatical, the Warrens yield to a downlow request from the Catholic Church to go on a three-day fact-finding mission to London, where they meet with the sympathetic paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) and the skeptical parapsychologist Anita Gregory (Franka Potente). A quick spin ‘round the internet’s pages about the Enfield poltergeist should get most people siding with Gregory against the notoriously self-promoting Warrens (they come off like superheroes again, well before Wilson picks up a guitar and sings Elvis). Although The Conjuring 2 includes most of the salient details about the case, it elaborates so manically that the film might as well be total fiction, which would give it moral high ground over this farce of a “true story.”

Wan demonstrates his impressive level of craft, with gliding camerawork and kinetic scares, but it’s all in service of utter nonsense, a tired poltergeist narrative that clocks in at well past two hours. The good news, for fans, is that the sequel is basically on par with its predecessor, but that’s also the bad news for rejecters of hooey. In the screenplay’s greatest moment of clarity, Gregory speaks for them: “I don’t know what’s worse: the demons or the people who prey on our willingness to believe in them."

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