James Wan has become a modern king of horror, having brought about a revitalization of the genre beginning with Saw back in 2005. Since then, he’s had his hand in creating two other successful horror franchises, Insidious and The Conjuring. It’s the latter for which we’re gathered today, with the newest entry in The Conjuring Universe releasing this weekend, The Nun II. Having spawned nine films with another on the way, it appears that Warner Bro. Pictures are deeply invested in the rich world of Ed and Lorraine Warren and the paranormal cases that they investigated.
While Wan didn’t serve as director of The Nun II, he did continue on as a producer, a role he has held for every film in the franchise. Instead, Michael Chaves, who previously directed The Curse of La Llorona and the most recent The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, returns to direct this sequel. The film also features some returning faces from the previous film featuring the devilish nun, as well as a few new individuals joining the mix and rounding out the cast.
With a story from Akela Cooper (Malignant, M3GAN), with Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing helping with the screenplay, the stage is set for an impressive gothic supernatural horror film. Does The Nun II live up to the hype behind the camera? It’s all a matter of perspective I suppose.
[Warning: Spoilers from The Nun II are below!]
Paranormal happenstance in France, 1956
It’s been about four years since the terrifying events at Saint Cartha’s Monastery and everyone involved has attempted to move on with their life. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) has found her way into the quiet Italian countryside, living a life that she seems outwardly happy with. However, you can tell that her confrontation with The Nun (Bonnie Aarons), whose true name is Valak as we learned in The Conjuring 2, has fundamentally changed her. She’s even more reserved than in the first film, but she also seems so much more confident and self-assured.
But there are moments where that resolve wavers, one being when she overhears one of the sisters telling the story of Saint Cartha’s Monastery, not knowing that Irene was involved. A moment that is followed rather quickly by Sister Irene being approached by the church to investigate a string of gruesome deaths that resemble those of Saint Cathra in many ways.
So like any good servant of God, Sister Irene, along with Sister Debra (Storm Reid), a young recruit to the church, set off to Tarascon France to discover what exactly is going on. Audience members are keyed in from the get-go that The Nun is involved, as the film opens with the death of Father Noiret by demon flames, an event that Jacque, an alter boy witnesses.
It isn’t long before Sister Irene discovers that the demonic nun has returned, well actually never died, and is killing all descendants of St. Lucy. It appears that the demon is looking for a relic tied to the family line. Together the two nuns set off to a renovated monastery to retrieve the relic before the Nun can, but there are two things that complicate this adventure just a bit. A group of children and an old friend.
Another character returns from the first The Nun film
Farmiga’s Sister Irene isn’t the only returning face from the previous film, with Jonas Bloquet’s Maurice also playing a key role in The Nun II. Early in the film, the audience learns that he’s the current host to Valak, who entered into him during the first film’s climax. As the vessel, he’s leaving a bloody path in his wake, searching for the relic. His final stop is at the monastery turned boarding school, which houses girls of all ages.
At the school, Maurice works as the groundskeeper and handyman, building strong bonds with Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey), one of the young children at the school, and her mother Kate (Anna Popplewell), who also works as a teacher at the school. Throughout the film, they show the duality between the kind and loving Maurice and the evil that now resides inside. The film bounces between having Maurice act as the physical manifestation of The Nun, while also having the demon travel outside his body to terrorize the people who live within the walls of the boarding school.
With Sister Irene and Sister Debra heading towards the school and the evil within becoming more active, the film heads to an epic confrontation between the forces of God and those who come straight from Hell. At least, that’s what the desired effect that The Nun II is hoping for, although it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
The positives and negatives of The Nun II
As the title of this article states, The Nun II is an improvement over its predecessor. However, that doesn’t mean much as the first film is not great. The Nun is argumentatively the weakest film in the entire Conjuring Universe, barring perhaps the Annabelle movies. The first film took such an interesting creature from The Conjuring 2, which is actually terrifying in that film, and made it less spooky. So in that respect, the sequel is indeed leagues above the first one.
That being said, it’s still not great. The first half of the almost 2-hour film moves at a glacial pace, with not much action or momentum towards the overall picture. Some of it was necessary, like finding the connection between the victim and how it relates to Saint Lucy, however majority of the opening part was for audience members to make connections with Sister Debra and the young children at the boarding school. The extended time with these characters did little to make me invested in their fates.
The Nun II truly gets started once Sister Irene makes the connection between the victims and sets off for the school, with the second half serving as a solid horror film, albeit a bit predictable. Nothing from the film felt shocking, as I could guess almost every twist they were aiming for because the film fell into easy horror tropes. As well, we also know that Valak returns in 1976 for the events of The Conjuring 2, so banishing her once again holds no weight.
For all that was bad about it, Taissa Farmiga and Jonas Bloquet were great in this film. The weight that Farmiga’s Sister Irene has on her shoulders is incredible, and I loved seeing her outside the shadow of Father Burke (Demiàn Bichir) from the first film. Instead, she really shines as this strong paranormal investigator, mirroring her sister’s role in the flagship Conjuring series. Bloquet was fantastic with both sides of his character. Frenchie is unbelievably loveable and charming in a boy-next-door kind of way. However, when he’s possessed by Valak he’s one of the most terrifying individuals in the entire franchise. He’s nailed the creepy nun smile perfectly. Let me tell you, when he was chasing after Sophie, I held my breath.
Final thoughts on this entry from The Conjuring Universe
For all that The Nun II has going for it, there’s even more that is holding it back. The writing isn’t spectacular, with a story that is your standard 2010 film. It’s paled in comparison to some of the films that came before in The Conjuring franchise. These spin-offs from the main series feel cheap, attempting to mimic the terrifying energy that must have been lightning in a bottle with the first two films.
That being said, I still had a normative amount of fun watching it because of the people I brought with me. Strong suggestion: if you’re going to see it, bring someone who is easily scared and also willing to watch it. That makes it ten times more enjoyable.
I think there’s room for a strong The Nun film, but the first two movies haven’t quite captured what makes this creature so inherently scary. If you have some extra time and want a mid-level horror film, then you should definitely check out The Nun II. But this might be one film that’s it’s better to watch during Halloween time when it inevitably drops on HBO Max.
My rating for this film
The Nun II is currently in theaters. Will you be seeing this film? Let us know on X or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.