[Screen It]


(2016) (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson) (R)

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Horror: Paranormal investigators come out of a self-imposed sabbatical to help an overwhelmed single mother who believes that something evil is haunting her and her four kids.
Having just worked on the infamous Amityville Horror case, paranormal investigators Lorraine (VERA FARMIGA) and Ed Warren (PATRICK WILSON) have decided to take a break from being involved in such work. And that's because during that last incident, Lorraine's clairvoyance led her to witness her husband's death at the hands of some sort of creepy and likely demonic nun figure. But unbeknownst to them, a family across the Atlantic will ultimately need their help. And that would be the Hodgsons who live in a somewhat rundown house in the London Borough of Enfield. Single mom Peggy (FRANCES O'CONNOR) is trying to make ends meet after her husband left her for another woman, something that's left her and her kids, 14-year-old Margaret (LAUREN ESPOSITO), 11-year-old Janet (MADISON WOLF) and their brothers Johnny (PATRICK McAULEY) and Billy (BENJAMIN HAIGH) shaken.

Things get worse when strange events start happening in the house, mostly centered around Janet. After Peggy finally sees furniture move on its own, she and the kids flee across the street to stay with the neighbors, Peggy (MARIA DOYLE KENNEDY) and Vic Nottingham (SIMON DELANEY). Their situation eventually draws local notice, including from British paranormal investigator Maurice Grosse (SIMON McBURNEY) who comes to believe it's really happening, while British psychologist and parapsychologist Anita Gregory (FRANKA POTENTE) has her doubts. The church eventually sends one of its officials to ask the Warrens if they'd fly over to investigate whether a haunting or possession is actually occurring, or if the incident is a stunt, much like others claimed about Amityville.

Knowing they should if it might help a family in need, Ed convinces Lorraine and the two come out of their self-imposed sabbatical and arrive at the house. From that point on, they try to figure out if the paranormal activity is authentic and what to do about it if it is, all while Lorraine worries that something bad might happen to her husband.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
I've always found it quite enjoyable and entertaining watching people, who are talented at whatever profession they've chosen, plying their trade. And that's even true when they're repeating what they've already done or are simply applying slight variations thereof. Take, for instance, just about any professional athlete who excels at their sport. They're always pretty much doing the same thing time and again, albeit often against different opponents, but there's a certain beauty in watching them play.

The same holds true for musicians. The likes of Bruce Springsteen might add new songs to the mix or rearrange the set order during concert tours, but they're doing more of the same old, same old. Yet it's always a blast watching him or others perform or hearing their new work when they're so good at what they do.

All of which brings us around to director James Wan. While it's questionable if he'll be viewed in the future as a storyteller of the same caliber as a Spielberg or Scorsese, or a visionary filmmaker like Cameron or Zemeckis, there's no denying the guy knows how to make a horror film and manipulate viewers to get the best results in the process.

Such was the case in 2013's "The Conjuring," a horror flick revolving around the early casework of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren before they hit the big time, so to speak, working on the Amityville horror. Set in 1971, the film -- penned by Wan & Carey Hayes & Chad Hayes and David Leslie Johnson -- didn't really deliver anything new to the genre mix. But it was more than decently effective in delivering plenty of supernatural based suspense, giddy frights, and some genuinely spooky and scary moments.

With the Amityville case already covered in the 1979 film as well as the 2005 reboot, Wan doesn't go there much for material for the sequel -- "The Conjuring 2" -- except for an opening sequence set in 1976 that sets the stage for what's to follow. And that's a look at one of the more prominent and documented hauntings of the 20th century -- the Enfield Poltergeist case.

Now a year later and with the Warrens (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprising their roles) now in a self-imposed sabbatical from their usual work, the story shifts to a London borough where a lower income class family is scraping by in a home that's been decorated by set designer Liz Griffiths to be prime for the upcoming spooky stuff. There, the single mom (Frances O'Connor) is raising four kids, one of which (Madison Wolfe) ends up as the usual conduit for paranormal activity to make its way into the home.

Before long, things are going bump and then some in the night, stuff starts moving around on its own, the girl develops the standard demonic vocal delivery, and some creepy figures show up, including a demonic nun who will likely join the likes of Ghostface, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger as iconic figures of the genre. The Warrens are eventually consulted, reluctantly agree to give things a look and once-over, and the spooky stuff escalates from small startles to full blown supernatural activity and possession.

Have we seen this sort of material before? Absolutely, with "The Exorcist" obviously first coming to mind considering the possessed pre-adolescent girl, while there are elements from "Poltergeist" and many other "haunted house" type flicks thrown in for good measure. Yet, despite the familiarity, Wan has become such a master of horror pacing, reveals, throwing in comic relief and especially the placement and movement of his cameras that most everything has a somewhat fresh feel about it.

He also gets good performances all around, and while not all of the characters might be rounded out to full three dimensions, there's enough empathetic material to more than flesh out the main ones and give the film some added depth. That's especially true concerning O'Connor as the distraught mom, Farmiga as the worn down investigator who's concerned about her husband's well-being following some bad visions, and young Wolfe as the besieged girl.

If you're into offerings of this genre, you'll certainly want to go along for the ride and accept the various forms of manipulation, as the rewards of doing so are often terrific and certainly fun to behold. It takes a lot to spook or unsettle me in horror films nowadays, but I'll admit many of the sequences here are effective enough that they had me caught up in the suspense and scares. While nothing new, "The Conjuring 2" is the work of a horror filmmaker who knows what he's doing and it's fun to watch him at work and go along for the ride. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 6, 2016 / Posted June 10, 2016

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