The Conjuring 2 picks up some time after Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) have come into national prominence due to their involvement in the Amityville case. Lorraine is still seeing visions of the evil she saw in that house, and it's making her hesitant to take any new cases. But the Church asks the Warrens to investigate the case of the Hodgsons, a family living in London. The Hodgsons are dealing with what appears to be an angry spirit that wants them out of their house, this ill intent manifesting in very strange, violent ways.
It is worth noting that The Conjuring 2 is about twenty minutes longer than the first movie. The added length is palpable, the movie stretching out its succession of scares over an untenable period, the story becoming more difficult to care about as the film lurches over into its second hour. Taken individually, a lot of these scenes are marvelous, featuring the sort of horror movie construction and craft that is actually rarely seen in a filmmaking era that has reduced the genre to empty jump scares. But put together as a whole, the effect is much less chilling.
Is it scary? Sure. When the film wants to elicit a reaction from the audience, it does so with ease. It pulls this off with noticeable technical flair. It uses long, fluid takes that establish the geography of every scene, the camera drifting over background details that become vital parts of the horror yet to come. The audience is made to understand the components of this house, and it really pays off when things start going wrong. And the film is more willing to linger in a scene, sustaining the scares rather than just cutting away.
And the film seems smart enough to recognize the strange connection between horror and comedy, providing moments of levity that serve as release valves for the tension. The mechanics of these scenes are almost perfect, the direction in full control of the experience. But the movie just keeps going, and at some point, the film loses its edge. There is a particular component of the scares that doesn’t really work, and it feels like the film could have survived without it. And the scares get lost as the film introduces convolutions to the plot that seek to give the Warrens a bigger role in this story.
The film is best as a straightforward poltergeist film. As long as it’s staying within those bounds, it’s fun enough. But the film piles on other things. It tries other kinds of horror that aren’t nearly as effective. And it tries to make more out of its connection to the Warrens, giving them a halfhearted arc. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are marvelous actors, but their performances are put into roles that feel shoehorned in. The film also gets good stuff out of Frances O’Connor and Madison Wolfe, who really deserve more in this movie.
The extra twenty minutes really doesn’t help The Conjuring 2. Having already paid homage to practically every kind of supernatural film in the first installment, this sequel might have been better served with a tighter focus. But instead, the film expands. It packs in the mythology of two Warren cases and has them intersect in really clunky ways. Still, horror fans should find a lot to like in this film, which has showcased a masterful grasp of what makes horror work. This isn’t a film that’s just out to startle you, although it does that. It wants to make sure that the uneasy feeling lasts, that some of that fear lingers.