Thursday, June 9, 2016

A house under siege -- by a demon

The Conjuring 2 has plenty of jolts, but falls short of its predecessor.

Another summer, another exorcism.

Yes, it's time for The conjuring 2, a second chapter in the adventurers of real-life ghostbusters Lorraine and Ed Warren.

Beginning their work in the 1950s, Lorraine and Ed became the couple you'd call if you suspected that your house had been possessed by demons, other than the ones that cause the toilet to overflow at inopportune times or make the microwave die when you haven't got time to buy another.

Of course, most of our problems are nothing compared to those that put the Warrens on the paranormal map.

Set in 1977, The Conjuring 2 focuses on the troubles of (Frances O'Connor), a single mother who lives in London with her four children, one of whom -- young Janet (Madison Wolfe) -- suffers intermittent bouts of possession.

Like The Conjuring, which told the story of a "haunted" house in Rhode Island, this one focuses on another residence, a North London house that became the focal point of a story dubbed "The Enfield Poltergeist."

The first movie took place prior to the Amityville Horror case that made the Warrens famous; this one takes place in 1977, seven years after Amityville.

At first, the Warrens (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) resist involvement. But even at home, Ed and Lorraine aren't what you'd call a typical couple.

-- Ed keeps busy painting pictures of some sort of mysterious demon.

-- Lorraine has horrifying visions, one in which she sees her husband die.

Ed and Lorraine seem out of step with the '70s cultural zeitgeist that spawned the Bee Gees, so much so that when Wilson's Ed picks up a guitar, it's to sing Elvis tunes. Can't Help Falling in Love With You is a particular favorite.

Barely scraping by, the fatherless Hodgson family tries to cope with demonic visitors in North London. The screenplay -- credited to Wan and three additional writers -- quickly dispenses with any doubts about Janet's possession: Others see and hear what Janet sees and hears, phenomenon such as furniture sliding across rooms and loud, thumping noises that interrupt the night.

The house in London's Enfield borough isn't exactly a prize. Paint has begun to peel from the walls, the basement exudes horror-movie possibilities, and the furniture has seen more than its share of wear, particularly a fraying armchair that occupies a corner of the house.

The movie unites its American and British strands when the Catholic Church asks the Warrens to check out the goings-on in Great Britain. The Church wants to know if there are grounds to send in the exorcists or whether this is one more hoax.

Wan, who helped redefine contemporary horror with 2004s Saw and who directed The Conjuring, knows the tricks of the demonic-movie trade, dishing out enough jolts -- many involving severe property damage -- to startle most audiences.

A small supporting cast doesn't have much to do. Franka Potente shows up as a psychologist eager to debunk Janet's stories. Unfortunately, her character isn't well-enough integrated into the story to justify her presence. Simon McBurney signs on as a researcher who's disposed to believe the Hodgson's story.

For all the frightening folderol, Wan can't match the achievement of the first movie -- and, this time, I was overly conscious of exactly how Wan was using his skills to help us overlook some pedestrian writing and to make audience members pop out of their chairs as if the theater had become a giant toaster and they, the bread.

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