For horror fans accustomed to wandering through acres of dreck for a meager jolt, James Wan is the real deal. The Conjuring 2, the director's return to the horror game after the amiably knuckleheaded Furious 7, is a brilliantly staged, strangely exhausting work of a filmmaker in complete thrall to his chosen genre. This is a movie where virtually every scene is designed expressly for the purpose of causing the viewer's colon to have an out-of-body experience.
Based on the case of the Enfield Poltergeist of the 1970s—with a smidge of Amityville Horror thrown in for good measure—the plot finds devout ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) back in the fray, protecting an English family from the attentions of an extremely creepy and extremely dead man.
As in the earlier installment, The Conjuring 2 plays fair with its jolts, minimizing cheap tropes such as the innocuous reflection-in-the-bathroom-mirror or cats propelling themselves out of nowhere. (Okay, there is a dog that pops up occasionally, but that bastard figures into the story.) Which isn't to say that there aren't an awful lot of jump scares to be found: Cannily establishing the geography of the location early on, and relying on his cast to expertly sell their reaction shots (Farmiga is particularly terrific), Wan devises an astonishing variety of ways for things to unexpectedly pop into the frame and shout ooga-booga.
He may be a bit too successful at it, actually. Clocking in at 133 minutes, The Conjuring 2 ultimately feels like Wan's equivalent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where a director is so completely in the zone that they forget when to say when—or to consider the exhaustion level of the audience they're so expertly manipulating. Even Pavlov put the whistle down occasionally.