If you, like I was, are hesitant in seeing The Nun II off the back of the original film failing to make good on the character’s horrific potential or because director Michael Chaves hasn’t exactly got the strongest track record in directing genre films under the Conjuring Universe banner – he helmed 2019’s largely forgotten The Curse of La Llarona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, arguably the least liked of that series – I can attest your fears can be put to rest. The Nun II is a considerable step-up from its predecessor, because, for starters, it actually lets its titular character in on the action.
Bizarrely side-lined for the majority of her own movie, The Nun felt like it was about anything other than the habit-wearing demon known as Valak (Bonnie Aarons). And though there are other demonic forces at play in The Nun II (Two words. Demon Goat), Valak as an overall presence burns brighter throughout the film’s 110 minute running time; admittedly still far too long for a film that begs to be a tight 90.
Playing with the mentality that assumes you’ve seen the first film, The Nun II starts off on an atmospherically promising note as it reintroduces us to Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a villager from the first film who initially transported supplies to the convent, but is now acting as a handyman of sorts around a boarding house for young girls in 1956 France. Pleasant as he appears – in between tending to the school garden he lightly flirts with teacher Kate (Anna Popplewell) and befriends her somewhat isolated daughter (Katelyn Rose Downey) – the opening scene reminds us that he’s a vessel for a far more evil spirit; and as we bare witness to the film placing children not only in peril, but executing them too, there’s a certain uneasiness in Frenchie openly walking about a school of pre-teen girls.
Learning of a local priest’s murder, The Vatican call on Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate, because she’s had experiences with such brutality before (see The Nun). Not thrilled at the prospect of being the church’s own ghostbuster (so to speak), Sister Irene begrudgingly agrees to check the scene out, bringing fresh convent recruit Sister Debbie (Storm Reid) along for good measure. Enter supernatural horror.
From hereon The Nun II delights in suitably executed set-pieces (there’s a magazine-centric visual scare that is likely to earn a few screams from untested audiences) whilst balancing a well-intentioned, but forgettable human drama storyline that ultimately only breaks the film’s momentum. Frenchie’s friendship with Kate’s daughter proves necessary when it comes to the putting the young girl in danger (how could someone she trusts want to inexplicably kill her?), but the bashful banter between himself and Kate adds nothing to the overall context of their interactions. Similarly, the Ian Goldberg/Richard Naing/Akela Cooper-penned script wants to create something of a backstory for Sister Debbie, but she’s too quickly introduced and framed as an immediate heroine that we know her ultimate placement will be fighting alongside Sister Irene in the appropriately over-the-top climax; I suspect Cooper, who also has writing credits on Malignant and M3GAN, had a guiding hand in The Nun II‘s ending, where the aforementioned demon goat, more children in peril, and an increasingly angry Valak all fuse together.
Whilst there’s still frustration to be pointed at The Conjuring Universe as a banner, as outside of the first two Conjuring films they’ve mostly existed in middling-to-underwhelming efforts, The Nun II at least showcases that there’s still a healthy amount of fun to be had with their variety of characters if the creatives behind each film are able to truly tap into the terror potential and not sacrifice a certain mean spiritedness for the sake of a younger viewing audience. The Nun II doesn’t entirely march to the beat of its own drum, but Chaves proves capable enough as a conductor that the potential for a violent symphony is there.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Nun II is now screening in Australian theatres.