The Conjuring 2 (2016) [Midnight Movie]

You’ve got to be a gifted filmmaker to make me care about a couple of characters based on the paranormal investigators known as The Warrens. Were they delusional or professional scumbags? Or both? I’m going with both.

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a card-carrying skeptic, through and through. Before I saw The Conjuring I would have gladly forgotten The Warrens existed at all. In a piece of fantasy, however, the characters are fascinating. Years ago, as mentioned in the first film, Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren had a premonition so terrifying, she refused to tell her husband (Patrick Wilson’s Ed Warren) what she saw in it. I would have preferred it if The Conjuring 2 kept her vision a mystery, but this time around they spill the beans. Their reason for doing so, however, induces a feeling of dread which helps drive this sequel.

The Warrens have been called in to investigate the strange happenings at a London home occupied by a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her three children. There’s an entity in the house who calls himself Bill. Bill likes to rip sheets from the beds and tug on the children’s ankles. When the mother tries to intervene, he graduates to biting, which leaves behind nasty sets of teeth marks on their skin.

Bill’s not the only presence at play here. The kids own a creepy old zoetrope. The spindly figure it depicts sometimes vanishes from the toy altogether, only to reappear creeping around the house in a mixture of CGI and stop-motion effects. It’s the best visual of the entire movie. Hell, it’s probably the best visual in any horror movie in years. Meanwhile the kids sing a nursery rhyme about this character, calling him the crooked man. (This is apparently a real-life nursery rhyme.)

Finally, there’s the demonic nun who seems unrelated to the London house, but frequently torments Lorraine. The demon is, disappointingly, a shoe-in for Marilyn Manson, which may be a case of director James Wan showing his age. And if this sounds like the movie is getting a little too overloaded with villains, I would have to agree. They should have kept the crooked man and dumped the Marilyn Manson lookalike altogether.

Still, The Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel which feels like a worthwhile continuation. It mixes in just enough new stuff to dazzle us while keeping enough of the old ingredients we liked so much the first time around. I do think it’s pretty dishonest to portray skeptical characters as stupid assholes, but hey, whatever—it’s Wan’s movie, not mine. Elsewhere, the characters are expertly written and the leads become even more interesting than they were in the first movie. Maybe the horror isn’t quite as good as it was in part one, but you’d need a very precise measuring tool to know for sure.

When The Conjuring 3 comes out I’ll be the first in line.

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