Nail-biting suspense as dark tale of demonic possession unfolds

Frances O'Connor and Madison Wolfe in The Conjuring 2 ''PA Photo/Warner Bros
Frances O'Connor and Madison Wolfe in The Conjuring 2 ''PA Photo/Warner Bros
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THE CONJURING 2 (15, 134 mins) Horror/Thriller/Romance. Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh, Patrick McAuley, Bob Adrian, Sterling Jerins. Director: James Wan.

Released: June 13 (UK & Ireland)

Fact and outlandish fiction are repeatedly smudged in James Wan’s stylish sequel to his 2013 supernatural horror, which dramatised one of the real-life cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Like its predecessor, The Conjuring 2 juxtaposes archive photographs and the Warrens’ taped interviews over the end credits to convince us that the spooky shenanigans orchestrated on screen are anchored in unsettling reality.

Only the gullible would submit wholeheartedly to the film’s gargantuan suspensions of belief.

Subtlety often eludes Wan, like a blast on the soundtrack of London Calling by The Clash when the storyline moves to the capital, and he’s rather fond of shooting impending doom from the point of view of an evil spirit creeping up on its victim.

Artistic flourishes aside, the sequel draws inspiration from the notorious case of the Enfield poltergeist, which sent shivers down the spines of north Londoners in the late 1970s.

To this day, the veracity of the haunting is shrouded in mystery.

However, the four screenwriters of The Conjuring 2 are content to use one family’s terror as a foundation for the usual array of horror tropes: creaking floorboards, a child speaking in tongues, inverted crosses, and ghostly figures emerging from the darkness.

In 1976, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) visit the Amityville house where Ronald DeFeo Jr was convicted of killing six members of his family.

“This is as close to Hell as I ever want to get,” sobs Lorraine after she enters a trance to relive the tragic night.

The Warrens go into self-imposed exile to devote more time to their teenage daughter, Judy (Sterling Jerins).

The church compels the Warrens to return to active service to investigate claims from a terrified single mother, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor), that her house in Enfield is in the grip of a dark force.

Ed and Lorraine travel to rain-swept England to interview Peggy and her four children, Margaret (Lauren Esposito), Janet (Madison Wolfe), Billy (Benjamin Haigh) and Johnny (Patrick McAuley).

When youngest daughter Janet exhibits signs of demonic possession, Ed and Lorraine battle with the lingering phantom of an old man (Bob Adrian) for the Hodgsons’ souls.

The Conjuring 2 feels overlong and lacks the tight emotional bond of the first film’s besieged family.

Wilson and Farmiga ease back into familiar roles while youngster Wolfe is impressive, including one unsettling scene of her character shuddering with fear beneath bedsheets as a spirit hovers above her.

The script dissipates tension with occasional flecks of deadpan humour, like when two police constables witness a chair moving on its own around the Hodgson home and a WPC remarks, “This is a bit beyond us.”

It’s certainly not beyond audiences, who enjoy gentle jump-out-of-their-seat scares as they nervously bite nails in the dark of a cinema.

RATING: 6/10