As The Conjuring 2 opens with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating the infamous murders at the Amityville house, it's all but impossible for a die-hard horror film buff not to recall the atrocious snooze that was 1979's The Amityville Horror, which squandered the spookiness of Jay Anson's 1977 best-seller and resulted in a series of comparably dreadful sequels that made up arguably the dreariest of all the major horror film franchises.
With this nod to Amityville, it's as if filmmaker James Wan, who himself has an admittedly spotty record as filmmaker (Dead Silence, anyone?), is suggesting to horror lovers that his Conjuring series is setting out to make up for the thrills and chills the Amityville franchise so miserably failed to deliver.
Alas, while I did have a generally fun time with The Conjuring 2 and it is an unimpeachable step-up from say, Amityville 2: The Possession, and frankly the bulk of the genre's lame offerings out there as of late, I wasn't genuinely scared or surprised for a moment. If anything, The Conjuring 2 reminded me most of another lukewarm haunted house sequel, 1986's Poltergeist II: The Other Side.
The Conjuring 2 focuses on a London family, single mom Peggy Hodgson (the always-terrific Frances O'Connor) and her four children, who are terrorized by paranormal events in their creaky home. (Even without the demonic spirits, I wouldn't set foot in this place, for fear of falling through the floor at any time.) One of Peggy's daughters, Janet (Madison Wolfe, in the film's strongest performance, looking like a pitch-perfect mix of Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd in The Shining), becomes possessed by the spirit of an elderly man who once lived in the house and wants to kick the Hodgsons out. Once Janet starts talking like Mercedes McCambridge in The Exorcist and scaring the bejesus out of her siblings and mother, it's obviously time for Ed and Lorraine to step in.
Following an impromptu performance of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Ed (a nice reminder of Wilson's singing chops), shit of course hits the fan on a dark and stormy night, with furniture flying through the house, lightning taking down trees, Lorraine battling a demonic nun and, well, you get the drill. It's at once enjoyable and kind of frustrating to watch Wilson and Farmiga mercilessly ham it up, given the rich, complex work they've recently turned in on projects like Fargo and Bates Motel, respectively.
I'm not sure there is a single particularly original or fresh idea in The Conjuring 2. Like the aforementioned Poltergeist II, which too featured a creepy old man and demonically possessed toys, it feels very much like a microwaved retread of its predecessor - not bad but not terribly remarkable and certainly extremely familiar.
The film is, however, worth a look for Wolfe's commanding performance alone - it's really about on-par with Linda Blair's - and if you're going to see a CGI-stuffed spectacle like The Conjuring 2, might as well see it on the big screen, and preferably with an audience that'll find this silliness scary.