PLOT Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren find a new mystery in England.
CAST Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Madison Wolfe
RATED R (gruesome imagery)
BOTTOM LINE Another year, another mix of “The Amityville Horror” and “The Exorcist.” Solid acting and an emotional back story set this one slightly apart.
James Wan’s 2013 horror film, “The Conjuring,” marked a slight peak in a genre that often feels like one big valley. Critics generally overlooked that it ripped off three of the most rehashed horror titles in history — “The Exorcist,” “The Amityville Horror” and “Poltergeist” — and instead praised the above-average acting and skillful scare tactics. The movie was no masterpiece; it just seemed like one compared to the umpteenth “Paranormal Activity.”
After a spinoff, “Annabelle,” the franchise continues with “The Conjuring 2.” Its blueprint is agonizingly familiar, although Wan (who directed and co-wrote) adds a nice change of scenery — England in 1977 — and an emotional undercurrent that proves surprisingly compelling. Otherwise, in terms of cast, story and overall quality, you’re watching the same movie for the third time.
We begin with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, once again played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, conducting a séance in that famous Dutch Colonial in Amityville. Struck by a vision of her husband’s death, Lorraine insists that they take a work hiatus. It isn’t long, however, before the Catholic Church beckons them to Enfield, England, where the Hodgson family is under siege by a hostile spirit.
Enfield makes for a fresh backdrop to the somewhat stale proceedings. It’s a working-class suburb of London, and the Hodgson family has a distinctly British flavor. Peggy, a stressed-out single mom played by a convincing Frances O’Connor, is convinced that her youngest daughter, Janet (a very good Madison Wolfe), is possessed by the ghost of a crotchety old man who once lived in their council flat. You know what follows: Toys move on their own, shadows grow on walls and something seems to lurk in the children’s makeshift tent.
One of the movie’s best and most unexpected aspects is the love between the Warrens. Although Wilson remains a low-key presence, Farmiga exudes enough emotion for both of them, and we feel her fear at losing the only person who truly understands her. That gives “The Conjuring 2” some added substance, even if the movie is generally business as usual.