In an almost unprecedented occasion, the second installment in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s paranormal files is a superior, classy, extraordinarily scary succession to the 2013 sleeper original. Director James Wan plays the audience like a Stradivarius. He is instinctual on when to lull us into a false sense of comfort. Normally poltergeist sightings are relegated to nocturnal appearances but Wan upends the convention for a shudder-inducing gag with Bill Wilkins during a rainy day home from school.
Likewise, the parents would be myopic to the chairs moving autonomously but after Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) glimpses a turbulent event, she contacts the police who are also eyewitnesses. It’s pretty remarkable that Wilkins is just a surrogate for a more malevolent puppeteer in the wings. While paying lip service to the DeFeo massacre in Amityville, Wan accelerates the opening with snappy jump cuts that synchronized with the rifle.
The only stillborn F/X work in the film is the silhouetted Crooked Man chasing the moppets through the house. Some will animadvert the film for slow patches but I loved the character-driven segments with the Warrens and the Hodgson children. The emotional investment soars during this passage. Ed’s (Patrick Wilson) guitar riff on Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is a beautifully romantic ode to his wife (Vera Farmiga). In another brilliant contortion on the recipe, Maurice Grosse (Simon McBurney) is not the Warrens’ territorial rival. He has a saturnine history with his daughter’s passing and he is more of a kindred spirit to the investigators.
Since it’s a period piece, conveniences like cell phones and other multimedia forms of communication are inadmissible. Wan doesn’t overindulge in the pyrotechnics overload of today’s blockbusters during the high-octane finale with a jagged tree posing an immense threat to the protagonists. Wan also eschews the cliffhanger segue into the ending credits or a trembling post-credits sequence.
Rating: 4 out of 5