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Movie Review: “THE NUN II” commits sins of omission

Friday, September 8, 2023 | Reviews


Starring Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet and Storm Reid
Directed by Michael Chaves
Written by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper
New Line/Warner Bros.

The good news is that THE NUN II contains one pretty cool, truly original and genuinely tingly setpiece. The bad news is that both this scene and its punchline have been given away by both of the movie’s trailers, so if you still plan on seeing THE NUN II after reading this review, avoid watching the preview at the end, if you haven’t seen it already.

There’s also one genuinely frightening demon attack toward the end of the film, though the malefactor involved is not the Demon Nun herself. That points up another problem with THE NUN II: It’s the second Warner Bros. horror sequel in as many months (after MEG 2: THE TRENCH) to give short shrift to its titular creature.

The follow-up to Corin Hardy’s highly stylized 2018 entry in the CONJURING franchise (which remains its highest worldwide grosser) picks up the story of Sister Irene (returning Taissa Farmiga) in 1956, four years after the events of the first NUN. She’s now living in a convent in Italy where the story of the battle she waged against the demon Valak with Father Burke is passed down as legend, though none of her fellow women of the cloth know she was the one involved. (We’re given first one, then another explanation for why Father Burke, and thus his portrayer Demián Bichir, aren’t back for this adventure.) Top Church officials, however, know where to find Irene when religious men across Europe begin meeting bizarre and horrible fates (including a priest who is spectacularly taken out in THE NUN II’s prologue), making it clear that Valak has survived and is up to his old tricks.

Meanwhile, Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), a.k.a. Frenchie, last seen getting infected by the demon at the end of THE NUN, has taken a handyman job at a girls’ boarding school and former monastery in France. He has also become the self-appointed protector and confidant of young student Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey), and his attention to her feels a little unseemly until we learn that she’s the daughter of teacher Kate (Anna Popplewell), whom he’s romancing. The place has a tragic past that includes, of course, a chapel that’s locked up and must not be trespassed upon, but, of course, a group of the mean girls trick Sophie into venturing inside and then trap her there.

There are quite a few “of course”s in THE NUN II, whose scripters include Akela Cooper, of producer James Wan’s previous MALIGNANT and M3GAN, and Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing, who wrote the marvelous THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE. That movie was so laser-focused on its chilling scenario that it’s a surprise, and disappointing, that NUN II fragments its narrative in a way that dissipates the tension. Irene trekking across the continent to track down Valak, accompanied by Sister Debra (Storm Reid, an appealing actress ill-served by a role that amounts to little more than a tagalong), alternates with Maurice, Kate et al. dealing with occasional supernatural outbursts, and the two plot strands proceed separately for too much of the 110-minute runtime. Valak, in the guise of the Demon Nun (Bonnie Aarons), doesn’t do much at the school, and in a couple of visions suffered by Irene, besides briefly loom and lunge, and despite the promise in those trailers, we learn little more that’s significant about her backstory.

Director Michael Chaves, in his third CONJURING Universe entry after THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA and THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, largely applies the house style to THE NUN II: eerie figures lurking motionless in the background before suddenly rushing forward, lights flickering off and then on to reveal horrific phantoms, the soundtrack dropping to silence and then attempting to jolt you with an audio screamer. These tactics are by now as familiar as many of the story developments; in addition to those mentioned above, there is, of course, an aged expert in a religious library who provides all the necessary exposition to propel the protagonists into the third act.

Once that portion gets underway, Chaves and co. rally for a properly intense extended climax, whose frights and action might have registered with even more strength if the characters and their progression weren’t so standard-issue. THE NUN II has been crafted in a proficient if not overly distinguished way, lacking the Gothic flourishes of its predecessor, though the sound design team gets a lot of mileage out of the creaking doors and other wood around the school. There’s one more “of course” at the end to note, which is not really giving anything away: a mid-credits bit featuring CONJURING heroes Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Intended to build anticipation for next year’s THE CONJURING: LAST RITES, it unfortunately leaves the impression that this team isn’t quite sure yet exactly what it will be about.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and in addition to his work for RUE MORGUE, he has been a longtime writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. He has also written for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM,, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM, MOVIEMAKER and others. He is the author of the AD NAUSEAM books (1984 Publishing) and THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press), and he has contributed documentaries, featurettes and liner notes to numerous Blu-rays, including the award-winning feature-length doc TWISTED TALE: THE UNMAKING OF "SPOOKIES" (Vinegar Syndrome).