Ghost movies based on true stories are tricky. How much truth is actually translated to the screen? How much is shed in favor of jump scares and big-budget climaxes? Not to mention the number of poor families that suddenly claim their house is haunted is suspiciously high. Still, you don’t have to believe in ghosts to enjoy ghost movies. They’re like an enemy you can’t fight, so of course they belong in horror. And with the first Conjuring a remarkable success, along with its spin-off Annabelle, it was only a matter of time before they conjured up a sequel.
The movie begins in the Amityville house. No, seriously. The real Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) apparently investigated the Lutz’ claims in real life, so this is where the movie’s story begins. After being chastised on television by a humorless skeptic, they decide to lay low, staying out of the paranormal game for the entire first half of the movie. Meanwhile, in Enfield, England, Peggy (Frances O’Connor), a poor mother of four, finds herself the victim of a violent haunting with her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) as the target. It’s not long before their story is in the news, and the Warrens reluctantly agree to fly to England to investigate this supernatural claim.
One thing you notice immediately is that this movie follows almost exactly the same formula as the original. People find out they have a ghost, they try to deal with it, and when they can’t, they call an expert. This formula dates all the way back to The Exorcist. It still works, even if this one’s a bit slower than the original. Once the Warrens show up in England about halfway through, you feel like the movie has finally started. It also doesn’t help that Lorraine Warren’s subplot from back home, where she’s being stalked by a demon that looks like an angry nun, is easily the more interesting plot in the movie.
The sequel is still as competently-made as the original. The suspense builds, the sounds are creepy, and the jump-scares actually make you jump. It successfully makes you dread any and all nighttime scenes. However, it’s difficult in this day and age to make a ghost movie without at least some CGI, and unfortunately The Conjuring 2 has a few clunky CGI sequences that pull the scares right out of you. There are also some cheesy dialogue exchanges and a rather big-budget and borderline explosive climax. It may suffer from sequelitis, but it still works for the most part.
True ghost stories are a very tough sell. Take something not everyone believes in, make a fictionalized version of it, then slap the word “True” onto it. It’s not going to convince many people, if anyone. Still, I’m not here to prove or disprove the story behind the movie. Even with its flaws, The Conjuring 2 is far, far better than most of the supernatural movies you’re likely to find out there. A faster beginning and a little more focus would have helped, but as far as spine-tingling ghost stories go, I’ll take it.
3 out of 5