Interview: Director Michael Chaves on conjuring The Nun II; “Watching a movie you want to feel like you’re in the hands of a madman”

Having directed both The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Michael Chaves is no stranger to helming horror in the supernatural space.

For The Nun II, the anticipated sequel to 2018’s hit The Nun, Chaves is navigating his boldest narrative yet, with the director noting he’s proud if his film goes “off the rails.”

As the film arrives in theatres (you can read our review here), Peter Gray spoke with Chaves about challenging himself in the horror space and how he was able to execute one of the film’s most effective scares.

I’m a horror fan, so I’m always hoping that I can be surprised or unnerved in some capacity when watching a genre film – especially within The Conjuring Universe.  I’ll say two words first off: Demon Goat.  Thank you for that.  Given your experience in directing horror films so far, is it becoming easier for you to execute a good scare? Or is there still a challenge in trying to one-up yourself each time?

I think it’s always a challenge.  I think anyone who says it’s easy, they’re just not trying hard enough.  We’re in such a great horror renaissance.  I mean, look at all the great horror movies out there, and everyone’s just raising the bar.  I think it’s such a great space to work in.  It’s not just outdoing yourself, you want to outdo everybody you want to, or at least keep up with everybody.  What a great time to be making horror movies, and what a great time to be a fan.

On the mention of outdoing yourself, one thing you did with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It was putting kids in peril.  I love that boldness, and in The Nun II there were some moments I wasn’t expecting relating to that.  Is there a kind of enjoyment in doing things to characters that may not always be considered the best thing to do?

(Laughs) I think you got to, honestly.  It’s funny, because I love to hear that.  You watch these movies so many times and you kind of forget that what you’re doing to this person is actually really horrific and unsettling.  But, you know, when you watch it a bunch of times you’re almost becoming immune to it.  I think that’s something that’s always really fun.  Whenever I start a movie, from the get-go I want to announce that this is no hold barred.  This is crazy.  Nothing is safe.  And I think once you’ve announced that early on, then everything becomes a lot scarier.

I like the feeling of watching a movie and knowing I’m in good hands.  Watching a movie you want to feel like you’re in the hands of a madman (laughs).  If it’s going to go off the rails, you want to ask “What did I just watch?”  I think it’s that balance that makes a movie ride really exciting.

I don’t think I’d want a horror film to be in the hands of anybody but a madman! One of the sequences that really got me was the one involving the magazines.  Even though it’s in the trailer, it’s so much more effective in the film itself.  I wanted to ask how much of that was practical in getting the images to line up and the emotions to change with each page?  In its entirety it was really something.

Oh, thank you so much.  That was one of the earliest ideas I had, and we were working on it literally right until the very end.  There’s a lot of practical elements in that.  Some of it is just wind moving paper, some of it was mechanical pages.  Sometimes it would work, sometimes it would misfire.  There was a lot of VFX to help smooth it out or fix any problems when it started taking all of our resources to do this one thing.

It’s like when you go on a hike or something, and then you’re into the height and you realise it’s way harder than you thought it would be.  There’s no turning back because you have to walk home.  It was the kind of experience where if you knew how hard it was, I don’t know if I would have jumped into it as easily.  But I think the results were really cool.

It’s the same thing with the goat demon.  The goat demon is majority done in camera.  The only thing that was CGI was the feet because it was a safety thing.  We couldn’t have (the actor) moving at the speeds that we wanted, especially when going down the stairs.  We just couldn’t do that safely with the prosthetics.  Our actor could have flipped over and snapped his neck.  That’s where CGI is essential – to clean stuff up and polish a little bit.  It also helps the performances.  Those kids gets so scared when that goat demon is running around,  They’re legitimately screaming because they’re really terrified.  And that’s so much fun (laughs).  I do think they enjoy the thrill of it.

Looking at The Nun II, I think the hike was worth it, Michael.

Thank you so much.  I appreciate that.

The Nun II is now screening in Australian theatres.

Peter Gray

Seasoned film critic. Gives a great interview. Penchant for horror. Unashamed fan of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jason Momoa.