Movie review: 'Conjuring' sequel goes for jolts over tension-building of original

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

When director James Wan's "The Conjuring" came out in 2013, it was a surprisingly effective, kinda old-school horror flick that built some real tension. Consider it a pleasant surprise in a sea of mediocre supernatural horror.

Its success spawned a lesser spin-off in 2014's "Annabelle," but this summer's "The Conjuring 2" brings back the one thing that most hurt "Annabelle": the absence of lead actors Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. Unfortunately, it also misses in some of the areas where the original succeeded.

It's 1977, and paranormal investigators Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga) have found a case that pulls them out of a self-imposed break from the business. Coincidentally, it is for a case compared with the one that brought the Warrens to fame.

A single mother and her four children living in the North London borough of Enfield, England, begin seeing unexplained phenomena in their house. As activity escalates, the case draws comparisons to the famous Amityville hauntings - which the Warrens investigated.

Despite some terrifying premonitions that Lorraine has been experiencing, the pair flies across the pond to check out a jolly ol' English poltergeist.

Wan returns to direct, but he seems to be delivering a more crowd-friendly product. If the first "Conjuring" was refreshing for its willingness to build a slow tension, the successor goes for the so-called "jump scares" from the opening credits.

Here's the thing about jump scares: They're effective. If you take a dark theater, build a moment of heavy tension and quiet, and then throw terrifying imagery combined with all the loud noises a theater sound system can deliver, you are going to jump. That's inherent from our evolution.

That said, the same effect could be had if a co-worker snuck up beside you at the office and blasted an air horn in your face. You wouldn't call that art.

"Conjuring 2" seems built for shorter attention spans, making sure those jolts happen often. The less-is-more approach of the first film made those scares more earned, and as a result they ran deeper.

Still, fans looking for this kind of chilling, roller-coaster experience likely won't be disappointed. One of the scary visages created here is definitely nightmare fuel.

"The Conjuring 2"

Opens Thursday

2 1/2 stars out of 4