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3 out of 4 stars

Title
The Conjuring 2
Written by
Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, James Wan and David Leslie Johnson
Directed by
James Wan
Starring
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson
Classification
14A
Country
USA
Language
English

God moves in mysterious ways, but the devil makes a racket.

As we saw in 1973 with The Exorcist, the underworld's most villainous are noisy attention-seekers who hate household furniture. As The New York Time's Vincent Canby wrote in his review of William Friedkin's pea-soup classic, "The devil, it seems, for all his supposed powers, can't break and enter without sounding like Laurel and Hardy trying to move a piano."

We see similarly raucous demonic situations in The Conjuring 2, James Wan's stylish sequel to his supernatural-horror hit of 2013. The soundtrack plays Christmas carols, but there's nothing silent about the nights in a house taken over by rude spirits, with the loud fuss meant to lure, then snare a pair of paranormal investigators.

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They are Lorraine and Ed Warren, a real-life couple played once again by the damn good actors Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. They are deeply devoted to each other, their marital compatibility so persuasively conveyed by Farmiga and Wilson that you'll swear you can still taste their wedding cake.

Where The Conjuring took place in Rhode Island, this film splits its time on both sides of the Atlantic. We see the Warrens as comfortably middle-class, living in a home of shag rugs, wood-panelled walls and plaid furniture. Lorraine wears a crochet vest; Ed sports statement sideburns. The seventies – the horror!

The film begins with a flashback seance in Amityville, site of an infamous house and the dreadfulness within. Lorraine, who has a "God-given gift" for connecting with displaced spirits, is so traumatized by her experience there that she asks her husband that they no longer conduct on-site investigations. He agrees.

Meanwhile, over in North London, a shambolic abode is dominated by a kids' bedroom splashed with David Soul posters and television sets overwhelmed by flickering images of Margaret Thatcher. The domestic situation is not as cozy here, where four kids live in relative squalor. The mother (played by Frances O'Connor) is loving but overwhelmed. The two daughters, using a homemade ouija board, ask if their philandering father is coming back and one of the boys asks mum the same question. Signs point to no.

Amid this gorgeously shot and smartly conceived 133 minutes of jump scares and chilling moments, there is a not-so-subtle religious subtext. A "leap of faith" is encouraged more than once and there are more crucifixes in this Christmas-set film than in a Vatican gift shop's going-out-of-business sale. While the compassionate, Bible-carrying Warrens live comfortably, in the impoverished and frightened single-mother household the youngest boy (perhaps distressed due to an absent father) stutters and a growling 11-year-old girl (portrayed excellently by Madison Wolfe) is possessed by Linda Blair, the agitated spirit of an old man – or something even more malicious.

At one point, Simon McBurney (wonderful as British paranormal sleuth Maurice Grosse) explains his wish to believe: His daughter died young and he'd like to think that she "still exists somewhere."

As you probably guessed, the Warrens decide to renege on their decision to retire from scary-house visiting. They head off to rainy North London, where they take on an investigation into the demonic deal going down at the Hodgson house, the site of a real-life paranormal case – "England's Amityville."

Further details of the plot should not be revealed. But moviegoers should know this isn't a horror film made just for teenagers – though they'll be on the edge of their knapsacks, all right – but for adults as well. The humour isn't gag-ridden. When someone wonders which is worse, the demon or the pursuit of the demon, Farmiga's Lorraine answers with a perfect facial expression and tone, shaking her head every way but literally: "The demon, the demon is worse."

Okay, perhaps that line doesn't come off so well in print. But it is funny – take my word for it.

And believe me on The Conjuring 2, a supernatural winner bound to make some noise at the box office and worthy of loud applause.

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