This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
As the ninth installment in The Conjuring Universe franchise, The Nun II is better at teasing its horror than executing it.
Amazing to consider how it’s actually been a decade since James Wan’s The Conjuring released in 2013, and quite less so amazing to see the McDonalds-ification of this horror property at full strength as it stands in The Nun II. To be fair, this franchise has always been about a broad universe of ghosts and ghouls creeping in every corner of the globe, and there have been enough high-points in these movies to off-set the very worst. Is it all leading somewhere satisfying? What even is a satisfying way to tie up the Ed and Lorraine Warren “saga” after so many movies that have nothing to do with the real (and actually horrific) people these movies are based on?
Well, The Nun II isn’t really here to answer that question in earnest — you’ll have to wait for whatever comes next, naturally. It follows the events of 2018’s The Nun which itself is a spin-off of the “demon nun” who occasionally appears in 2016’s The Conjuring 2 (my personal favorite of these movies). The director this time around is Michael Chaves, who helmed two of the weakest TCU entries yet that don’t have Annabelle in the title — The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do it.
As for the script, it’s a three-hander with Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, and Akela Cooper — in addition to having a story credit as well, Cooper is just coming off a terrific run from Hell Fest in 2018 to Malignant, then this year’s M3GAN and its upcoming sequel.
“This thing. It’s come back for me.”
Unfortunately, the basic premise of The Nun II is itself pretty basic compared to Cooper’s previous work as a film writer. The Nun had an enticing, period-focused gothic atmosphere and a keen attention to delivering jump scares that could knock someone out of their seat at least a handful of times. The Nun II pulls back to more complicated locations and an almost thriller-style plot with some of the weakest jump-scare setups this franchise has seen in years.
Taissa Farmiga, certainly the best revelations of these two movies, returns as Sister Irene, the devout nun who used the Blood of Christ to dispel the demon nun with a little help from two other people I definitely remember from that movie (a nun at one point recounts many of these details as a helpful reminder, and wow did I need it). It’s now 1947, and Sister Irene has been living a relatively peaceful life ever since, but she’s wrangled into a trot across Europe to investigate the mysterious and apparently supernatural deaths of several Catholic officials. Along for the ride is Storm Reid as a novice nun forced into this life by her father. What are her motivations for doing any of this? Oh, right, finding her faith. That will definitely, uh, pay off.
“This demon was once an angel.”
As for Sister Irene, there’s almost something there to the idea that she’s practically guilt-tripped into taking on such a risky “job” by the Catholic church, but it’s not like The Nun II has a clear or pointed commentary on religion beyond “demons bad” and “some religious people aren’t the right kind of religious” or something along those lines. It’s all just superficial script fodder to re-deliver the Conjuring formula of holy freedom fighters entering a neighboring horror movie with the means and know-how to save hapless victims.
In the case of The Nun II, those victims are the students, teacher, and familiar handyman Maurice (Jonas Bloquet) of a boarding school in France that looks like it’s about to fall apart at any moment. Turns out Maurice was possessed by the demon nun in The Nun, and he’s unwittingly unleashed her dark presence on the teacher he has eyes for (Anna Popplewell) and her precocious daughter and student (Katelyn Rose Downey).
The bottom line.
The plot has never been the point of these movies, right? There are some curt revelations involving the origins of the demon nun and what this entity actually wants, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s something kind of vague and bad. Despite its tight running time of 110 minutes, the film’s structure favors a bloated third act with more visceral action than anything specifically frightening, an unfortunate holdover from the last movie.
But even the sequences leading up to the bombastic finale, all of them designed to provoke fear and dread and that sense of inevitability, are remarkably flat save for one or two that at least hit the middling mark. It might be the exhausted formula, because the production design and actual setups for these moments have true flair behind them, particularly when it comes to some of the movie’s reliance on convincing practical effects. Oh, well. Perhaps it was too much to pray for a scarier movie on the ninth attempt.
The Nun II is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.
THE NUN II - 5.5/10