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The Fright Stuff

Director James Wan conjures up more scares in a spooky sequel

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As he did with The Conjuring, writer-director James Wan uses a supposed real life poltergeist in The Conjuring 2. The Conjuring involved a haunting here in the U.S., while the sequel draws upon the infamous Enfield Poltergeist that allegedly occurred in England in the late '70s.

Wan has tapped into something interesting with this franchise. Two films in, it's showing some decent durability and originality. It's also pretty scary.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as the Warrens, paranormal investigators known to have visited many legendary haunted spaces, including Amityville and Enfield. Wan, of course, blows up their involvement in each of these cases to deliver a platform for fictional circumstances and scares. While not quite as good as The Conjuring, this is a sequel that does its predecessor mostly proud.

Amityville actually gets a little bit of attention in the film's pre-opening credit sequence, a creepy one that has Farmiga's Warren possessing the body of killer Ronald DeFeo, Jr. during a séance vision of him murdering his family. Farmiga is seen walking around with an invisible shotgun shooting people, and DeFeo is seen with the actual weapon in mirrors. Many have tried to make the Amityville Horror scary at the movies, but this movie is the first to actually accomplish the feat.

The film then crosses over to its main focus, an impoverished family in Enfield, England. Peggy (Frances O'Connor) is raising her children on no money, and their flat just happens to get haunted. Not only does it become haunted, but daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) gets possessed by an old man who supposedly died in a living-room chair years before. He's now causing shit because it's his house, and he likes scaring kids.

One of the main reasons The Conjuring 2 works in the end is the performance of young Wolfe, who employs a flawless English accent to go with her appropriately eerie facial expressions. She has a swing-set scene with Farmiga that makes the skin crawl, and numerous times where she's required to flaunt her best "Linda Blair in The Exorcist" chops. She's great in every moment she spends on screen.

Knowing full well that his movie needed something besides a little girl effectively croaking like an old man to fill up its running time, Wan includes a monstrous ghost that emerges from a toy in the house, and some sort of Nun Demon that has an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Manson.

These two spooky entities provided a couple of jump scares that got this particular veteran of many jump scare attempts a few inches out of his seat. I'll say this for Wan: He's the current King of the Jump Scare. He has some impressive, impeccable timing at what has become a bit of a lost art among current horror film directors.

Farmiga and Wilson are decent once again as the Warrens, although the film keeps them on the backburner for much of the first half. O'Connor (the mom in Steven Spielberg's A.I: Artificial Intelligence) is solid as the cranky mom.

Wan, not looking to be pigeonholed as a horror director made 2015's Furious 7 and is slated to enter the DC universe with Aquaman in 2018. When he gets everything clicking, including an excellent soundtrack and camerawork, he's an effective horror maestro. He's made some stinkers (I still say the original Saw was crap and Insidious 2 was terrible) but he's pretty consistent within the horror genre, especially with his ghost stories. Due to his busy schedule, a return as director for the inevitable The Conjuring 3 seems unlikely for Wan.

I attended a well-packed screening for this movie, and it was met with a lot of screams and laughs during the film and even a round of applause when it was over. My feelings weren't nearly as enthusiastic for the movie, but I did enjoy it. It's a good enough summer scare machine that will put a couple of jolts into you.

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