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‘Conjuring 2’ is a superb spooky sequel

Vera Farmiga, left, Simon McBurney, Abhi Sinha, Frances O’Connor and Patrick Wilson star in “The Conjuring 2.”
Vera Farmiga, left, Simon McBurney, Abhi Sinha, Frances O’Connor and Patrick Wilson star in “The Conjuring 2.” Warner Bros.

Entering the canon of sequels that are better than the original, The Conjuring 2 exceeds the scope and scares of the horror hit from 2013. The Conjuring, starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, reminded audiences of the power of a good ghost story and proved director James Wan to be a master of horror. The trio have returned to spook the pants off audiences again, and the sequel is a perfectly executed haunting flick that dives below the surface to explore themes of vision, belief and faith.

Like its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 is a bit of a bait-and-switch. The sequel starts out with a taste of Amityville before hopping across the pond to take on the Enfield Poltergeist in England. Though Lorraine, plagued by blasphemous visions of her husband’s death, wants to take time off from their work, the investigators are compelled by the church to verify the claims that a vicious inhuman spirit has possessed Janet Hodgson.

Wan, with cinematographer Don Burgess, shows a mastery over the camera as a storytelling tool and creates evocative, bone-chilling suspense with just a pan or tilt. The camera is almost constantly moving, maintaining a sense of unrest. It switches between hand-held shots from the perspective of the characters and an omniscient camera that seems to have a mind of its own, sweeping through rooms and drifting into corners with a spectral presence. Wan teaches us to fear what lies just outside the boundaries of the frame. The big, scary thing is often hiding in plain sight.

Wan mirrors the interlocked, and sometimes contradictory, themes of vision and belief in The Conjuring 2. For the characters, seeing is believing when it comes to what’s happening in the Hodgson home. But the visual evidence is never quite trustworthy, despite the reams of video and audiotape of Janet’s possession. It’s easier to trust Lorraine’s psychic visions of otherworldly forces. Belief in the unseen and faith in each other is the bedrock of Ed and Lorraine’s relationship, which is the moral compass of the story.

Wan, fresh off directing Furious 7, occasionally strays toward CGI-enhanced bombast to elicit scares, rather than his subtle and effective camera work. But those animated boogeymen aren’t as terrifying as the things we know are there but can’t quite see.

If anything, The Conjuring 2 plays as a spiritual sequel to The Exorcist, with Madison Wolfe stepping into the Linda Blair role as the vulnerable Janet Hodgson. Set in the same time period of the 1970s, there are similar sociopolitical anxieties about class, family and motherhood. It’s easy to reference the classics, but The Conjuring 2 is an evolved, modern version of the story, and it establishes its own classic status as film in conversation with both the past and future of horror.

Movie review

‘The Conjuring 2’

Rated R for terror and horror violence. 2:13. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.

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