What It's About: What might be lurking in the shadows keeps us on edge in the sometimes spooky but mostly sluggish "The Conjuring 2."
The anticipation is there, but somehow the sequel doesn't catch fire. Nevertheless, there are freaky fright nights in a North London welfare home where newly divorced Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Conner) lived with her four children in 1977.
As with the first movie, this ghost story is based on real encounters the Warrens had in their faith-based paranormal investigative work.
But this time, the horror film feels padded and plodding. It's far too long and repetitive, but does provide jumps and jolts that people expect. In 2013, "The Conjuring" scared the bejeezus out of me, but the latest didn't sustain that hair-raising ferocity.
In the original, clairvoyant Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and her demonologist husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) confirmed the Perron family's haunted house in Rhode Island, then went on to gain fame and notoriety over the Amityville house's horrors in 1976. That controversy opens No. 2.
The church dispatched the Warrens to check out the Enfield poltergeist case in England, to see if an 11-year-old girl (Madison Wolfe) was possessed by a demon. A creepy old man's strong spirit is messing with the family, but there's more menace afoot than first thought.
The action includes textbook examples noted in every possession case since "The Exorcist," and maybe we're jaded about upside-down crucifixes and moving objects when depicting supernatural horrors.
More effective are the disturbing appearances of a sinister nun, yet we're not privy to more information. The flying furniture startled the first couple of times.
Performances: Vera Farmiga ("Bates Motel") and Patrick Wilson ("Fargo") are genuinely believable as the devoted married couple with special insight into the supernatural. And Wilson, a Broadway star, shows off his vocal chops, too.
Young Madison Wolfe ("Trumbo") projects a vulnerability and strength at the same time, and makes the singled-out Janet completely sympathetic as the terror mounts.
What Works: Director James Wan ("Saw") is capable of building suspense, and cinematographer Don Burgess' camera work is masterful, filling us with dread as we explore the nooks and crannies of this shabby home.
The production design is effective, and its precision is documented during the credits when you see the actual Hodgson home. Yes, the two girls plastered their bedroom walls with photos of Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul, aka "Starsky and Hutch."
What Doesn't Work: Supernatural visual effects aren't as surprising as they once were, and the sound is amplified so much in these genre films. Piercing screams and roaring demons don't require finesse. But a dog ringing a bell and the creakiness of an old swing swaying is truly eerie.
The Clash's "London Calling" is used to underscore their trip, but the song came out in 1979, another continuity issue for a 1977 case.
Because of the first movie's thrills and chills, expectations were high, and sadly, "2" doesn't meet them.
The Warrens' work is fascinating, and there likely will be a third installment. However, this movie needed a tighter focus and less reliance on cheap tricks.
"The Conjuring 2"
- Stars: 2 1/2
- Director: James Wan
- Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O'Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney and Franka Potente.
- Rated: R for terror and horror violence
- Length: 2:13