Pity those faith-driven ghost chasers Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). It’s 1977, six years after they set all things paranormal right again in the first Conjuring movie. Lorraine’s been having premonitions of Ed being killed violently by forces from the Great Beyond. She’s also been rocked by visions of a vengeful nun with fangs. Maybe it’s high time to cool it with the séances and exorcisms before the prophecies become true. Besides, what is all this mucking around with ghouls and demons doing to Lorraine’s mortal soul, let alone her religious faith?
Interesting questions but, hey, there’s one hell of a fact-based haunting going on in Enfield, England, where a horrifying supernatural entity keeps making things go bump in the night in the stressed, ramshackle home of a psychologically battered single mom (Frances O’Connor, so good yet again) and her four kids. The case has already sparked a full-on media circus and made the family a magnet for other paranormal types. So off to England go Ed and Lorraine, doing the lord’s work by putting themselves at the epicenter of a ghost-quake that’s been tormenting the 11-year-old daughter (Madison Wolfe) who pretty much gets Linda Blaired for the movie’s entire running time–all because “the crooked man” wants his damn house back. Furniture moves around willy-nilly. Someone or something keeps tapping on the walls. Crucifixes turn upside down. People get torn from their beds, tossed around and left with bloody bite marks. Horrifying (or, depending on your mood, corny) faces keep popping up everywhere. And of course there’s levitation and supernatural ventriloquism.
Director James Wan pulls out the full arsenal of ghostly bells and whistles, and cinematographer Don Burgess shoots the living hell out of them. But the very best stuff in the too-long, overpopulated movie happens, just as in the first Conjuring, when things are quietest and simplest. Like the great scene in which Ed matter-of-factly chats with a demon in a living room. Or when a rocking chair creaks. Or an old telephone sounds like a scream. But too much of the film, with its four credited screenwriters, is busy and cluttered.
Through it all, the film stays admirably focused on characters, emotions and primal fears to which audiences can relate. Farmiga and Wilson are, again, indispensable; they, like Wan and the screenwriters, treat the Warrens with commendable dignity. The actors work beautifully as a couple. Their love and concern for each other feel real, and the truly gifted Farmiga gets to act up a storm in the movie’s last third. After these films and TV’s Bates Motel, does she have a ghost of a chance of getting to do anything else but horror?
Either way, The Conjuring 2 is a great showcase for Farmiga and a pretty good excuse for an early-summer scare or two.