THE CONJURING 2. A sequel is a prickly, contentious proposition. Most, at least in this era, are conceived of a transparent greed and opportunism that throws whatever art and excitement might be on offer into the deepest shade. These examples represent a distinctly American cash-grab ethic, their design promulgated on taking advantage of the rapidly shifting attention of a fickle audience. The Conjuring 2 is not an example of this tendency. It belongs to a separate camp, in which sequels are born because there is more story left to tell, a bigger world to explore. Such sequels, increasingly rare, can be a dangerous, too: They give us more of a good thing, offering hope that can quickly be destroyed. (And yes, I believe hope can be carried on the wings of a horror movie. This is an age of diminished expectations.)
The Conjuring 2 reunites us with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) six years after the events of The Conjuring (2013). In the intervening period, the Warrens have continued their investigations and interventions in cases of the supernatural and demonic. Most notably, they became involved in the events that would become widely known as the Amityville Horror (wherein a family appeared to be haunted by the murder house into which they moved). The swirl of publicity around Amityville soon envelops the Warrens, who feel compelled to make television appearances to inform and educate the public about their work.
Increasingly, though, this exposes them to forceful naysayers and cynics out to self-promote and to denigrate the Warrens as frauds. Concurrent to their trial by public opinion, Lorraine continues to be tormented by the psychic residue of the Amityville case. She sees portents of Ed's death, and can't shake the presence of a particularly nasty evil. She asks Ed that they not take on any new cases, feeling overtaxed and fearful of what the future might bring. He agrees, but of course a respite isn't really in the cards, as the Warrens soon find themselves needed in London, England.
Recently divorced mother of four Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) has a hard enough time making the rent, keeping her ramshackle old house and parenting her brood. The last thing she needs (well, the last thing anybody needs, really) is to have her youngest daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) possessed by a demon. But such is life in the world of The Conjuring, and after a great number of sleepless and terrifying nights the Warrens are finally enlisted to come to the aid of the long-suffering Hodgsons.
The style, pace and structure of the sequel will be familiar to fans of the first movie, and it's all the better for it. Returning director James Wan (teaming again with writers Carey and Chad Hayes, along with new blood David Johnson) works meticulously with tone and atmosphere, especially in the first two acts, infusing the movie with an air of dread, doom and awful possibility. The pace in the early going is disarmingly languid, creating a lived-in, convincingly shabby space that feels like reality, if slightly heightened. The mundane struggles faced by the Hodgsons in the bleak gray desolation of late-1970s London seem almost enough for a horror movie in and of themselves, but that's just background. One of the great achievements of Wan's horror canon, beyond his ability to coax natural, vulnerable performances from his cast, is his apparently effortless mastery of dream logic. He creates such a compelling atmosphere, visually and narratively, that we slide right into the nightmare sections without hesitation. He is able, somehow, to re-instill the openness and naïveté of the sleeping child in his audience, and then pierce that reverie with precisely punctuated moments of fright. It is an exquisitely enjoyable thing.
Which is not to say that The Conjuring 2 is without flaw: the slow march toward the climax will prove too lugubrious for some, and the denouement is, perhaps predictably, a little much. But measured against the movie's achievements (excellent set decoration and production design, compelling performances, appropriately constructed camera moves, etc.) those flaws, in hindsight, only seem to highlight the attributes. R. 133m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
NOW YOU SEE ME 2. And here is sequel as counterpoint to the above. I was somehow legitimately beguiled by Now You See Me (2013), a summer movie with slick action and a charming cast that left me wanting more. But now that I've had my wish perversely filled, I wonder at my previous opinion. While the cast is still in place, and maybe more charming than ever, with Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher, the movie around them feels insubstantial, over-produced, rushed. It's silly without much fun — a true modern sequel. PG13. 115m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE. A late-blooming CIA operative (Duane Johnson) drags his early-peaking high school classmate (Kevin Hart) from the reunion into buddy-movie action/comedy. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
FINDING DORY. Ellen DeGeneres voices the blue tang with the fried short-term memory (anybody relate?) from Finding Nemo. With Albert Brooks and Ed O'Neill. PG. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Strong actors in a gaudy, hot mess of CGI indulgence that abandons Lewis Carroll's story and pits Alice (Mia Wasikowska) against Time (Sacha Baron Cohen). With Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. PG. 113m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE. From your iPhone to the big screen, grumpy animated fowl hurl themselves at interloping pigs. Voiced by Jason Sudeikis and Maya Rudolph. PG. 97m. BROADWAY.
THE JUNGLE BOOK. The Kipling story returns to inspire real childhood wonder with seamless CGI, believable animal characters and grand adventure. PG. 106m. BROADWAY.
THE LOBSTER. Yorgos Lanthimos' surreal and sometimes nightmarish film about the pressure to couple up and some of the self-deception and delusion that can result. Starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. R. 118m. BROADWAY.
ME BEFORE YOU. Carpe diem love story about a caregiver and a suicidal quadriplegic man. Starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. PG. 110m. BROADWAY.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS. Megan Fox and Will Arnett in the franchise that launched a thousand lunch boxes. PG-13. 112m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
WARCRAFT. Can the sound of orcs roaring in the big-screen incarnation of the massive multiplayer online role-playing game draw devotees from their computers? Or will they heat up another Hot Pocket and stream it? PG13. 123m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
X-MEN APOCALYPSE. Team Xavier battles the OG mutant (Oscar Isaacs) during the Cold War in spectacular sequences that entertain but break little ground. With Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and Jennifer Lawrence. PG-13. 144m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill