Any decent actor worth their weight in salt can do justice to a part that’s inherently outstanding. But it takes an extraordinary talent to give life to a generic part and make it captivating. That’s the power of Vera Farmiga, an American actress active since her Broadway debut in the play Taking Sides in 1996. Perhaps today’s audiences know Farmiga best as Norma Louise Bates in the A&E television series Bates Motel. But her star turn in 2013’s The Conjuring brought her some much deserved recognition. She, along with the accomplished Patrick Wilson, return as real life paranormal investigators Loraine and Ed Warren. The Warrens received recognition for their involvement in the Amityville Horror case made famous by the 1979 movie.
The Conjuring 2 is actually based on the Enfield poltergeist, some alleged spiritual activity that affected a council house in England from 1977 to 1979. But before we get to the legitimate heart of this tale, the narrative briefly revisits the Amityville Horror events. Ostensibly, this is to just to lay the groundwork for the societal doubt that the Warrens incurred for their work. Then it’s off to London, England, where the Warrens fly out to meet afflicted matriarch, Peggy Hodgson. This is where the proper story finally takes off — nearly an hour into this 134 minute film. Yes it is much too long. I contend the horror sweet spot is a brisk 90 minutes. Anyway, Peggy believes that some nasty ghosts are haunting her home. Then her youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) starts showing signs of demonic possession. Ed and Lorraine investigate and pretty soon those pesky spirits have targeted them.
Director James Wan is back. Besides helming the original The Conjuring, he directed Saw and Insidious so he knows a thing or two about horror. Wan focuses on the traumatized family first. For a while this is a document of how a close knit household, united by a single mother, is torn apart. Then the focus shifts to the Warrens and here’s where the dramatic skills of a couple of superior actors strengthen the account. Wilson and Farmiga are Christian paranormal investigators relying on their faith and working for the Catholic church. They are portrayed as sensible people with a healthy skepticism. Through it all, director James Wan keeps the shocks coming. The events are fashioned like a roller coaster ride with a rhythmical ebb and flow of tension and calm. Scares are artfully presented in a period atmosphere. It lends the proceedings the look of quality that gives horror aficionados joy. Furniture moves by itself. Unexplained banging noises/voices are heard. There’s 4 feet of water in the basement. That sets the mood. The demons are scary too. One unwanted visitor looks like rocker Marilyn Manson dressed up like a nun. Pasty white fingers reach out from behind a painting. A spinning zoetrope brings a “crooked man” to life. I jumped a few times, but to be honest, this shtick all feels pretty familiar. Ultimately the movie belongs to Wilson and particularly Farmiga. Their unmitigated sincerity sells this picture. I was invested because of them.