Director James Wan could have sat back and rested on the substantial laurels of "The Conjuring" (2013), an original horror film that has grossed $319 million worldwide, second only to "The Exorcist". His later films, including "Insidious: Chapter 2" and "Furious 7" were box office smashes of their own. So why risk all that positive energy on a sequel, again involving a true story of demonic possession, this one occurring almost 40 years ago?
One answer lies in his ability and fondness for scaring moviegoers. Another is his joy in working with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who reprise their roles as real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in "The Conjuring 2". They are totally believable as they immerse themselves in their roles.
This is a quality fright fest for all the horror junkies out there, including me. For sheer thrills, "The Conjuring 2" is on a par with some of my past favorites, including "The Ring" and "Paranormal Activity". It delivers on every level. The acting all around is first-rate, the cinematography by veteran Oscar nominee Don Burgess is stunning, and it all actually happened in the London borough of Enfield in 1977.
The Warrens, semi-retired after their ordeal in the infamous Amityville, New York case from 1970, are summoned to London to investigate the paranormal events plaguing Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) and her four children. Her ex-husband had twins with a neighbor --- a revelation that brought chuckles to our screening audience -- so he is a non-factor in Peggy's life. O'Connor is excellent as the terrified mother who must watch in horror as her youngest daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe) is afflicted by an unknown entity. She must also endure skepticism that Janet is really staging the horrific events, even though police and others are witness to the chaos. Franka Potente plays Anita Gregory, the real-life parapsychologist who is the chief skeptic.
The one flaw I found in "The Conjuring 2" is the weight placed on the only "concrete evidence", i.e., a video tape of Janet destroying a room in the house, purportedly proving the whole affair is a fraud. Even Ed Warren questions how a fragile 11-year-old girl could toss a heavy table across the room, and to that I would add the same doubts about the bite marks on her shoulder. However, none of this is sufficiently argued in order to discredit Gregory's position. Maybe that was the way it actually happened, I could surmise.
Of course, like so many films featuring child actors, the horror genre depends on, and demands, near perfection from its lead actor. In "The Conjuring 2", that responsibility falls to Ms. Wolfe, a New Orleans native, now 15, who turns in an astounding performance, British accent included.
Unlike Linda Blair's character in "The Exorcist", which was shocking for its time (1973) with her spinning head and projectile vomiting, Wolfe is more subdued, credibly displaying the haggard, tearful, frightened --- and just plain exhausted --- victim of a demonic possession. The talented young actress has already made films with the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Will Ferrell, Jason Sudeikis and Bryan Cranston, and played Woody Harrelson's daughter on TV's "True Detective".
Although the movie could have been shortened by 20 minutes --- too much time is spent on 72-year-old Bill Wilkins (Bob Adrian), who presumably haunted the house after his death. But I won't quibble with that --- certainly Wan keeps his audience on the edge of their seats the entire time.
The filming of "The Conjuring 2" was preceded with a blessing by a priest from New Mexico who actually dispensed holy water and anointing oil in the rooms comprising the movie lot. Clearly, Wan and his cast and crew were not taking their film about demonic possession lightly.
While I'm not a fan of ghostly apparitions appearing out of nowhere in these movies, Wan applies them sparingly and with very good effect. For those who may have seen the trailer showing Janet in a room full of crosses on the wall which all are turned upside down in a matter of seconds, this is not a big reveal. The scene actually has little impact in the overall scarier picture.
The real Janet Hodgson, now an adult woman of 50, was a consultant on the film, as was her older sister Margaret, played sensitively by Lauren Esposito. And as the movie closes, we see a room full of artifacts from previous Warren exorcisms. This is fascinating stuff.
Horror buffs, check out "The Conjuring 2". You won't be disappointed.
Opinion: See It Now!