At one point deep into the slick and undeniably scary but annoyingly overstuffed “The Conjuring 2,” Patrick Wilson’s 1970s ghostbuster takes out an acoustic guitar that has been sitting untouched for years in the corner of a shabby London home, tells a freaked-out mom and her scared-out-of-their-wits children to gather ’round — and proceeds to channel Elvis singing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
No I really mean it.
It’s a tribute to director James Wan’s skill set and confidence that he puts the brakes on the story to give us this bizarre albeit strangely touching sequence —but by then I was so irritated by Wan’s choice to extend nearly every scene beyond its stretching point and to poke us and prod us with essentially the same handful of scare tactics again and again and AGAIN that I wanted to reach through the screen and smash that acoustic guitar, a la John Belushi taking down Stephen Bishop in “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”
The unimaginatively titled “The Conjuring 2” is the follow-up to Wan’s razor-sharp supernatural thriller (it was called “The Conjuring,” as you might have surmised). The 2013 original was a stylized and fictionalized version of the supposedly true-life, harrowing exploits of husband-and-wife team Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Vera Farmiga, both quite good), who claim some of the most well-documented cases ever of haunted houses, demons, possessed girls who wind up crawling on the ceiling and speaking in that classic Linda Blair “Exorcist” voice — you know, that sort of thing.
“The Conjuring” was pretty cool because it fused cutting-edge camera moves and special effects with old-school horror in lieu of “torture porn” nonsense, i.e., blood and guts squirting all over the screen as a substitute for genuine storytelling.
Wan retains his touch for ratcheting up the tension, providing doses of comic relief and then BOOM!, delivering another gotcha moment that will leave audiences jumping in their seats and then giggling at the visceral thrill ride — but the scary moments aren’t as fresh this time around, and with a running time of 2 hours, 13 minutes, “The Conjuring 2” is at least a half hour too long.
After an unnecessary prologue revisiting the “Amityville Horror” story (I still ain’t buying it), and a sequence set on a TV chat show where Ed loses his temper when a professional skeptic casts doubts on the Warrens’ work, we finally get to the primary setting for the film: a house in a working-class neighborhood in Enfield, England. Divorced mom Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) lives there with her four children, who are suddenly being terrorized by slamming doors, loud knocks, creepy whispers, toys that come to life in the middle of the night, a seemingly empty rocking chair rocking, a television with a mind of its own and a nasty old cuss of a spirit who occasionally takes possession of the body of 13-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe).
Wan is too smart and too aware of the genre not to have some fun with it. You know how there’s always that moment when you want to yell at the family, “Get out of the house! Run!” Well, “The Conjuring 2” has big fun with that — but then Hodgsons RETURN to the house, more than once, even though they know there’s a world of torture and fright awaiting them. (The excuses offered for them returning are laughable.)
Also unintentionally funny: a skeptic who is convinced the family is faking it, even though the film is one thousand percent slanted toward making it undeniably clear this is one seriously haunted house. In real life, I’d be siding with the skeptic in any of these tales of demons occupying dwellings and persons; in this movie, anyone who doubts the presence of evil, undead creatures spiriting about the hallways and occasionally occupying the bodies of living humans is an idiot.
Farmiga has the showiest role in the film, as Lorraine isn’t just a demonologist; she’s haunted by insanely realistic visions or dreams or whatever you want to call them, and let’s just say what Lorraine sees when she’s in a trancelike state would make your worst nightmare look like a scene out of “My Little Pony.” Lorraine is a mother of a young girl herself, and Farmiga does an excellent job of portraying a skilled, protective warrior against the dark side who occasionally is as scared as anyone else by what lurks in the dark.
Wilson does strong and steady quite well. When he’s not staving off demons with the help of the crucifix around his neck and his apparently photographic knowledge of biblical verses, Ed is a loving and tender husband, quite the guitarist/singer/Elvis impersonator — and he even offers to fix a leak which has caused serious flooding in the Hodgsons’ basement. What a guy!
I admired the look of “The Conjuring 2.” The sets are well-designed, the lighting superb, the cinematography suitably textured with creepy shadows and varying degrees of darkness offering just a hint of something wicked just behind that door or around that corner.
It’s just a shame the end of the movie wasn’t lurking around the corner far sooner than when it finally turned up, by which time a considerable amount of my emotional investment in the film had been exhausted.
New Line Cinema presents a film directed by James Wan and written by Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes and David Leslie Johnson. Running time: 133 minutes. Rated R (for terror and horror violence). Opens Friday at local theaters.