James Wan turned The Conjuring, a horror with a well-worn story about a nice family living in a big old house with a big old ghost, into a crowd-chilling hit in 2013. It was thoroughly traditional, but confidently so, full of old tricks done well. The sequel plays the same tricks to lesser success.
Real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) are now drawn to the UK to investigate odd goings-on in Enfield in the 1970s. A young girl is being terrorised by a poltergeist, which some believe she’s faking (you may remember the same case from the Sky series The Enfield Haunting). Perhaps it’s the slacker plot or that North London terraces aren’t as spooky as backwater American mansions, but it’s a less terrifying time.
Just as he did with the first film, Wan sticks to a well-thumbed rulebook of scares. Creaky staircases. Old toys taking on a life of their own. Thumping on walls. There’s no jump here that hasn’t been done countless times before. What’s vital, though, is that Wan knows instinctively how to time and cut them. It’s a rather delicate art – overdo the build-up and the tension drifts away; go for a big shock without priming the viewer first and it’s just empty noise. He’ll have you leaping out of your seat until you’ve thrown your popcorn across five rows in each direction.
What’s not so effective is his new story. This ghost could really do with getting to the point a bit quicker. For an unnecessarily long time the Warrens are in America, being taunted by a spirit that looks like Marilyn Manson doing nun cosplay. In London – which Wan introduces with The Clash’s ‘London Calling’, a cinematic cliché even older than his creakiest frights – the Hodgson family are repeatedly being driven over the road to stay with the neighbours. It takes forever to push the two together, and neither plot needs so much time to breathe. Wan is still terrifically skilled at executing horrifying moments, but he’s lost control of the bigger picture.