By Bill Wine

By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 2013 original, a harrowing haunted-house heart-stopper, scared the jelly out of our doughnuts.

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The follow-up, sorry to say, suffers from sequelitis.

The superior horror thriller, The Conjuring, was an eerie, well-crafted chiller based on a true story that masterfully controlled the mood and atmosphere as it put us through the horror wringer with disturbing paranormal activity, and in the process provided an object lesson in the difference between gory and scary.

In The Conjuring 2, another period piece set in the 1970s, we’re back in the company of Connecticut-based supernatural investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, husband-and-wife demonologists – yep, real-life, faith-based ghostbusters played again by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farniga — who are best known for their exorcism-performing involvement in the case that provided the basis for The Amityville Horror.

Horror maven James Wan (Saw, Insidious, Death Sentence, Dead Silence, Furious 7), the director of the original The Conjuring, is also back, in the director’s chair. But the over-the-top graphic approach that he avoided so wisely in the first outing as he glued us to the screen with an effective slow build and the maintenance of a nosebleed level of tension and dread puts in a bit too much of an appearance this trip.

(2 stars out of 4)

(2 stars out of 4)

The admirable discipline and restraint on display in the first installment isn’t quite so admirable in the second, although ordinary objects do continue to be surprisingly unnerving.

But our imaginations, which were so much a part of the terror formula during the initial outing, don’t have much to do in the sequel because the level of ambiguity is so much lower. And the more we see, the less we fear.

It was what we didn’t see rather than what we saw and turned away from that sent shivers down our spines last time. This time we see entirely too much in the name of suspended disbelief.

We begin this second sojourn with a trip to the famous Amityville house, where the Warrens are conducting a disturbing seance.

As a result, Lorraine begins having visions that are telling her that the Warrens should retire from their career as paranormal investigators and that their lives may well depend on it.

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But then they learn of a case in England that seems to call for their skills and they feel compelled to attend and come to the aid of a family desperately in need of their services.

In the borough of Enfield in north London, a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children, living in poverty, are confronted with unnerving visions of a ghoulish demon, a malicious presence that seems to have possessed the eleven-year-old younger of the two daughters, played by Madison Wolfe.

Wan uses the house’s dark corners and hallways, his swooping camera’s hypnotic tracking shots, ominous music, abrupt noises, shock scares, disturbing jump cuts, and half-seen thingies to hold us by the lapels.

As well as a dollop of tension-release humor to keep us from taking any of this too seriously.

But the script by Wan, Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, and David Johnson, which includes a nod or two to the horror classic, The Exorcist, is somewhat self-serving in its depiction of the brave, selfless, heroic Warrens. A warts-and-all portrait of them this is anything but.

But more to the screenplay’s and director’s detriment, it makes abundantly clear that there is something there, thus robbing us of a level of skepticism that would provide a more convincing take on what’s real and what isn’t.

There’s also just too much reckless, ill-advised behavior in the face of obvious danger and violent, life-threatening mayhem – by the kids as well as the adults – so that these characters pretty quickly cease to even resemble flesh-and-blood people.

With the law of diminishing returns playing on the jukebox to the tune of 2 stars out of 4, The Conjuring 2 fails – not abysmally but unmistakably — to conjure up the shivery scares that The Conjuring offered in abundance.

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