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Lorraine (Farmiga, above) is having a little personal crisis of her own - her faith shaken after being spooked by another case.

Janet (Wolfe, above) starts seeing things around her family's council house.

Conjuring up new tricks in horror

10/06/2016 - 05:50

LEAVE it to James Wan to get his audience screaming faster and harder than a "hangry" plus-sized woman at a food court whose dinner tray has been prematurely snatched from her.

After modest hits with Saw (2004) and Insidious (2011), the Malaysian-born filmmaker hit the jackpot with The Conjuring (2013), an old-fashioned white-knuckle horror film that brought the genre back to the top of the box office after years of languishing in B-grade straight-to-video hell.

It sealed the 39-year old's reputation as this generation's horror Wan-derkid (sorry, M Night Shyamalan) and the highly-anticipated sequel, which opens this week, certainly doesn't let down.

No matter how well-thumbed the genre's playbook is, the Australian director somehow still manages to conjure up a new trick or two to chill the audience's blood.

Most of it comes from the masterful way he choreographs the scares. There are times when it looks like things are building up to a climax and then nothing happens; and then there are those that come absolutely out of nowhere to scare the living daylights out of you.

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Aside from the two-hour-plus running time which could be trimmed to keep the film tighter, The Conjuring 2 is guaranteed to keep its audience riveted to their seats - if they don't jump out of it in fright in the first place, that is.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as Lorraine and Ed Warren, a pair of real-life American paranormal investigators who this time take on the case of a haunted house in North London.

The plot is based on the Enfield Poltergeist - the English version of the Amityville Horror - which made headlines in the UK during the late seventies.

Single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O'Connor) has trouble making ends meet and raising four children on her own.

When one of her daughters Janet (Madison Wolfe) starts seeing things around the family's dilapidated council house, the Warrens are called in to deal with the lingering spirit of an old man who used to live there.

Making matters slightly complicated are cynics who are convinced the whole thing is an elaborate hoax which the Hodgsons cooked up so they can sell their stories to the tabloids.

Meanwhile, Lorraine is having a little personal crisis of her own - her faith shaken after being spooked by another case. She sees a nun in corpse make-up following her around and starts getting premonitions of her husband's death.

That subplot alone takes up about half of the screen time and the film feels like it has been divided into two parts as the Warrens don't even turn up in London until the second hour.

But it also injects an emotional core to the plot and one could argue The Conjuring 2 is as much as a love story as it is a scare flick.

Not many directors can do that in a horror film so when it comes to reinventing the genre, it's clear who is the chosen Wan.

Rating: B+