After his assuredly traditional The Conjuring, director James Wan bounces back with a more playful horror movie that subverts cliches rather than revelling in them. Like 2011's Chapter 1, this sequel allows Wan and screenwriter Whannell to merrily reinterpret the story with events that take place before, after and even right in the middle of that first film. And they are clearly having a lot of fun in the process, which keeps us both entertained and frightened.
It picks up right where we left off: with their son Dalton (Simpkins) rescued, Josh and Renai (Wilson and Byrne) take their three kids and flee to stay with Josh's mother Lorraine (Hershey). But of course, the ghostly nastiness follows them, and extremely creepy things start happening all over again. Now Lorraine realises that this has something to do with an event from Josh's childhood, so she calls in an old family friend (Coulter) to help. But ace ghostbuster Elise (Shaye) isn't readily available this time, so they have to make due with her always-distracted sidekicks (Whannell and Sampson).
As before, Wan deploys every standard haunted house gimmick in the book, filling the screen with freak-out apparitions, scary noises, slamming doors and screaming babies. He also uses plenty of movie trickery to disorient us, including a jarring musical score and suggestive visuals. Meanwhile, Whannell is digging around in the original movie's plot for things he can play with, redefining events with clever revelations while adding a whole new underlying story to the saga. And the film continually shifts tonally, so we never know what to expect in the next scene.
All of this is played with deadpan seriousness by the gifted cast. Both Wilson and Byrne are able to find even darker edges to their characters, while Hershey gets a couple of very strong scenes before everything goes nuts. And even in a smaller role this time, Shaye livens everything up with her off-handed wit. Indeed, it's the movie's continual sense of humour that holds our interest and makes the wacky, simplistic story feel eerily involving. All of the comical touches add to the horror, setting us up for each goosebump-inducing jolt. And since it's clear that this family hasn't exorcised all of its demons quite yet, we look forward to revisiting them in Chapter 3.
Run time: 106 mins
In Theaters: Friday 13th September 2013
Box Office USA: $83.6M
Distributed by: FilmDistrict
Production compaines: FilmDistrict, Sony Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 41 Rotten: 68
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: James Wan
Screenwriter: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert, Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert, Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert, Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert, Steve Coulter as Carl, Leigh Whannell as Specs, Angus Sampson as Tucker, Andrew Astor as Foster Lambert, Hank Harris as Young Carl, Jocelin Donahue as Young Lorraine, Lindsay Seim as Young Elise Rainier, Danielle Bisutti as Mother of Parker Crane, Tyler Griffin as Young Parker, Garrett Ryan as Young Josh
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