There’s not much magic in “The Conjuring 2” (Warner Bros.). What this possession-themed horror story does have are two principal spirits haunting folks throughout — one of them a demon nun.
This being another episode from the “true files” of the energetically self-promoting demonologists and lay exorcists Ed and Lorraine Warren, an overlay of Catholic imagery is to be expected.
The spectral woman religious is too over the top and redolent of a Halloween party to actually offend people of faith. Then again, she’s too poorly utilized by director James Wan to inspire much fright, either.
After the habited demon’s first appearance in one of Lorraine’s visions, Wan keeps her off the screen for more than an hour, and instead focuses on a grumpy poltergeist named Bill (Bob Adrian).
Speaking of habits, Bill’s sole goal is to have the rundown London dwelling in which he died all to himself so he can keep on sitting in the decaying leather chair upon which he expired. This Archie Bunker-like seating preference proves inconvenient for the house’s current occupants, mom Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her four children.
Which is where the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) come in. Fresh off their famous dealings with a haunted house in Amityville, New York, the couple is struggling with the resulting notoriety — and public skepticism.
Ed, who died in 2006, billed himself as the only American layman permitted by the Catholic Church to perform exorcisms. In 1985, however, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI), then head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, banned laypeople from performing the rite.
No exorcism goes on here. Ed and Lorraine make it clear that they’re on a less specific mission from the Church after Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) asks them to go to London out of compassion for the bedeviled family.
As in any Dracula movie, Ed brandishes the crucifix around his neck to keep cantankerous Bill at bay once the latter has occupied the body of Peggy’s 11-year-old daughter, Janet (Madison Wolfe). Ed encourages poor Janet by repeating what a nun once told him in childhood: “God will be there for all who need.”
This caper is based on a real series of events known as the Enfield Poltergeist, involving telekinesis and strange voices. Speculation about what really happened in Enfield became an enjoyable cottage industry and provided fodder for Britain’s tabloid press.
As the script — co-written by Wan, brothers Carey and Chad Hayes and David Johnson — acknowledges, though, pranks by the children of the household may have been responsible for at least some of the busted crockery and bent spoons.
Still, such rational explanations don’t stop Sister Whatshername from taunting sweet Lorraine. Good thing Lorraine makes copious margin notes in her Bible.
The film contains occult themes, a skewed presentation of Catholic faith practices and intense action sequences, some of them involving gun violence. (A-III, R)