Supernatural thriller The Conjuring 2 doesn't have an original idea in its scary little head. It borrows most of its plot and imagery from other horror movies, rearranges them, and then spits them back out in a gob of blood and teeth. But if you've been paying attention to mainstream horror movies of late, that's pretty much the template. With a hundred years’ worth of cinematic ghost stories in the vault, it's difficult to conjure genuinely new ideas. At least director James Wan commits his larceny with skill and style, as he did in the original film.
Based on a true story—aren’t they all?—The Conjuring 2 follows the further adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), last seen busting ghosts in Rhode Island circa 1971. This time the Warrens travel to London, where an “inhuman spirit” menaces a poor family that is barely scraping by in a ramshackle council flat.
Single mom Peggy (Frances O'Connor) suspects trouble when her tweenage daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe), begins foaming at the mouth and telekinetically tossing furniture around the house. First the neighbors are called in, then the police, then the parish priest, and finally, the Warrens. There are a couple of quietly funny Keystone Kops moments here that suggest the filmmakers aren't taking this too seriously.
The first half of the film moves very slowly. The scariest sequence involves a haunted remote control. But once the action heats up, Wan throws every horror movie trope of the last fifty years at the screen. Backyard swings move on their own. Mirrors reveal fleeting apparitions. Chairs scoot across the kitchen floor. It's at this point that certain questions begin to present themselves.
Will doors slam shut and lock on their own? Will bedclothes and little girls be invisibly yanked off beds? Will insects swarm? Will televisions malfunction and display ominous images? Will children end up levitating and/or stuck to the walls? Will a spirit medium arrive and say she's never seen anything this powerful? Will crucifixes be inverted? Will Bibles be consulted, crucial scriptural passages weaponized? Will innocent children say blasphemous things in multi-tracked demon voices? Will our heroes make poor decisions concerning knives, staircases, and basements?
Well, I'd hate to spoil anything, so I'll leave those questions unanswered. The movie is based on the case of the Enfield Poltergeist, maybe the most famous ghost story in England. It's been called the British Amityville Horror, and like that ridiculous saga, it's also been pretty thoroughly debunked. But there's really no benefit to skepticism when it comes to ghost stories. The element of truthiness always seems to enhance them.
Movies like this played a lot better in the 1970s and ’80s, when the story elements weren't yet beat into clichés. Ghost stories in general worked better before instant global communication. Spooky myths and urban legends don't fare as well in the bright glare of the digital world. But The Conjuring 2 is a solid option if you're looking for a scary movie this weekend. Just bear in mind that you’ve seen it already, several times.