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Gotcha again! ‘The Conjuring 2’ delivers more devilish scares: 3 stars

Bumps and knocks in the night quickly escalate to the demonic possession of 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe).
Bumps and knocks in the night quickly escalate to the demonic possession of 11-year-old Janet (Madison Wolfe).

A troubled family. A creaky old house. Sleepwalking teenagers. Vera Farmiga’s eyes widening in terror.

Yep, it’s another “Conjuring” movie, and its otherworldly threats are as gruesome and scary as they should be.

But director James Wan’s success doesn’t come from special effects or loud noises (much as he loves those things). The man is a near-genius at manipulating audience response, framing shots in odd ways that reveal just enough to freak you out but not enough to explain what’s happening until the monster is RIGHT THERE.

His camera explores the house relentlessly, taking viewers into every dark corner, whether they want to be there or not. Very few directors can make moldy horror tropes seem this fresh and frightening.

Wan, who also kick-started the “Saw” and “Insidious” franchises, adds another chapter to the adventures of real-life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren (Farmiga and Patrick Wilson). Set a few years after the 2013 original, “The Conjuring 2” is based on the Enfield Poltergeist case, which gained notoriety as “England’s Amityville.”

Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) lives in public housing with her four children, all of whom are struggling since their father left the family. Younger daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe) begins having strange nightmares, waking up inexplicably in front of a tattered chair in the living room. Soon, mysterious noises, moving furniture and violent encounters with a cadaverous old man drive the Hodgsons out of their home.

Janet is the focal point of all this, and several people have since labeled the event an elaborate teenage hoax. That wouldn’t make much of a horror film, though, so Wan once again takes everything at face value. Coming off the real Amityville case, Ed and Lorraine are persuaded to help the family, despite the stress of Lorraine’s near-constant psychic visions. With a small team of assistants, they discover that the problem is actually demonic.

This should come as no surprise. With these two, everything is demonic, and their old-school religiosity motivates every act and assumption. While the real Warrens have regularly been accused of exaggerating or fabricating most of their stories, their fictional versions are pure, self-sacrificing heroes who are ultimately right about everything.

Wilson and Farmiga make a lovely, charismatic couple, so it’s easy to accept them as written, whatever you may think of their nonfiction selves. Of the other actors, only Wolfe makes a serious impact, and she gives “The Exorcist’s” Linda Blair a run for her money in the possessed-kid department.

“The Conjuring 2” is easily a half-hour too long, adding unnecessary scenes for either shock value or character development. The material is shocking enough already, and the characters are interesting without needing an artificial boost.

Wan has every reason to trust his filmmaking skills in this genre, and he has the elements for a successful “X-Files” meets “Exorcist” series. He could keep this going for years, if he just sticks to what he does best. Because he does that very, very well.

Find more of Loey Lockerby’s reviews at suchacritic.com.

‘The Conjuring 2’

Rated R. Time: 2:13.

The Wan and only …

Writer/director James Wan is leaving his mark all over Hollywood:

▪ In 2004, his breakthrough, “Saw,” launched the torture-porn era and six sequels (which he produced).

▪ In 2011, he and writing partner Leigh Whannell created the subtly creepy “Insidious,” starting yet another franchise. The fourth installment, which he’ll produce, is due next year.

▪ He directed last year’s “The Fast and the Furious” sequel “Furious 7,” the sixth biggest moneymaker ever at the global box office.

▪ In addition to directing the “Conjuring” films, he’s producing the spinoff “Annabelle” series, about an unsavory doll. “Annabelle 2” is due next May.

▪ He’s trying out two more genres: He’ll direct the DC Comics superhero adventure “Aquaman,” starring Jason Momoa (2018) and, eventually, he’ll produce the “Mortal Kombat” video game adaptation.

Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

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