Feeling a bit like a cross between the same director's ghost horror Insidious and classic demonic chiller The Exorcist, James Wan's The Conjuring was a surprisingly effective and above average paranormal horror. Basing it's adventures on real-life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren was neat spin on what was, to be fair, a traditional horror structure and generic jump scare formula. Creepy atmosphere, well-staged scares, quality acting (the child actresses are superb) and great camerawork and sound design really sold it; even if we'd seen it all before, it was effective enough to rise above its own clichés. The sequel offers more of the same.
Continuing the Warren's personal story while relocating the primary case to Enfield, London (based on the infamous 'Enfield Haunting' paranormal case in the seventies), The Conjuring 2 feels like a natural progression of the tale rather than a simple rehash. The same decent level of practical filmmaking remains; with exceptional sound design, effective camera tricks, chilling atmosphere, exactly the right amount of humour; while adding good period detail, quality child performances, and scares that are often genuinely frightening. Having seen both films only once, I can't say which is scarier, but this might just edge it. I'm not always entirely convinced by Patrick Wilson's character (he still has the square-jawed hero look about him); and the London accents for the Brit family don't always work (they occasionally sound like something out of Mary Poppins). That said, Madison Wolfe is superb as Janet and hers is the performance of the film (followed closely by Vera Farmiga's believably sympathetic Lorraine). The film also explores the real-life possibility that the family, in whole or in part, faked the whole thing; a plot strand that incorporates arguably the films most chilling scene.
Like the first one, the ending veers into Hollywood excess with plenty of bangs & crashes and convenient clichés; it's agenda is heavily pro-Catholic/ pro-faith, which might grate with some (although that didn't hurt The Exorcist or Omen); and the film's signature antagonist is now set to become it's own money-grabbing spin off, which might feel a bit like a set-up. Skeptics will probably remain untouched by anything in both films; but that doesn't stop it being a thoroughly above average popcorn-horror. If you want something wholly original, you may be left wanting, but for mid-tier scary movie goodness, James Wan absolutely delivers once again. Recommended.