Is James Wan becoming a needle stuck in a groove? It’s undeniable that the director behind Saw and Insidious is well versed in the horror genre and has previously demonstrated his keen flair for a solid scare. However, The Conjuring 2 not only fails to live up to its 2013 box office-topping predecessor but sees Wan repeating himself, as if hopelessly shackled to by-the-book horror tropes.
Not that this sequel should be written-off completely: it is handsomely crafted horror classicism and features the welcome return of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as real-life paranormal husband and wife team. This time, the ghost-bothering investigators pack their bags and take their business to Blighty, where a family is being scared within an inch of their lives by a hostile entity. They are faced with creaking doors, loud knocks in the night and possessed furniture, as well as sneaky succubi in the form of a surly OAP, a demonic nun and Jack Skellington’s lankier older brother. While the proceedings are well filmed and even enlivened by the presence of Simon McBurney’s moustache, at no point does the film dare to wrong-foot audience expectations or go beyond what feels like a rehashed collection of tired devices. Even the strongest set piece is ruined by the trailers and the period setting this time around feels gimmicky. In the end, it can’t help being a potpourri of familiar ideas that will barely register on the radar of genre veterans, who will quickly recognise it just can’t compete with the Babadooks and The Witches of this world.
Funnily enough, the film can be summed up not with a scare or a chilling set piece, but with a musical cue: as the action shifts to England, The Clash’s "London Calling" starts playing over stock footage of British iconography. It is an unoriginal yet functional beat, and that, in a nutshell, is The Conjuring 2. Here’s hoping that James Wan unsticks his needle (stop giggling at the back) for his next venture into the genre, which will doubtless be the third - and hopefully less risk-adverse - instalment in the Warren case files.
And James, one last thing: make it leaner. Such a predictable ride doesn’t require 134 minutes.
The Conjuring 2 / Directed by James Wan (USA, 2016) with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Starts June 16.