An angry demon nun, a boarding school for girls, and a final girl with faith as plot armor await you in the newest entry in The Conjuring universe — The Nun II. Directed by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It), The Nun II is a horror film that takes place after the events of The Nun, with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) and Valak (Bonnie Aarons) all returning. Valak’s appearance as the antagonist marks her third appearance as the primary antagonist in The Conjuring franchise.
The plot of The Nun II is similar to the first film. Valak is haunting someone or a place, and Sister Irene is dispatched to go help. There’s a period of investigation, and then the full extent of Valak’s possession is uncovered, resulting in a final battle between good and evil. Now, The Nun II is not the first horror sequel that recycles the ideas of the original. But, most of the better things about The Nun II come from the iconography of Valak. Making that worse, some of the choices in the sequel are also the worst parts of the movie.
For starters, The Nun II is way too dark. I’m not talking about dark as in gory or heavy themes; the lighting is too dark. While a few scenes are well-lit, most of the movie is visually submerged in darkness. Rather than build anticipation for a jumpscare, for the first 30 minutes of the film, I found myself squinting around the edges of the frame, trying to find jump scares where there weren’t any. The darkness didn’t build anticipation like most horror movies do; instead, it was just distracting.
The Nun II Is Too Much Like The Nun
The repetition of the story also presented an issue regarding the ending of the first film. This next section will contain brief spoilers for The Nun II and spoilers for The Nun. At the end of the first movie, we find out that Frenchie’s real name is Maurice and that Valak had possessed him, leading to the involvement of the Warrens, as they discussed in The Conjuring. So, any hint of speculation as to Valak’s possession of Maurice in The Nun II is useless because the last movie already makes his trajectory clear, bloating up the 110-minute runtime.
The original prequel was interesting because of how it connected to the main films. Still, the sequel to the prequel suffers because of that same connection. Despite containing a few great scares, such as a priest burning in the middle of a church, the first half hour ends up feeling boring because we already know what Sister Irene is trying to find out. Weirdly enough, while this inherently damages the story, there are enough cool moments throughout the film that should sustain your interest. But, some of the cool imagery and jumpscares were in the trailers, lessening their impact.
There are plenty of jumpscares and sequences that will make your toes curl in a bad way. I won’t spoil the end of The Nun II here, but one of the best horror beings in The Conjuring franchise makes its debut in the third act. It is equal parts frightening and hilarious, which is exactly what fuels a horror movie like this. We need to see things so ridiculous that they’re frightening, like The Crooked Man from The Conjuring 2. The sound design was top-notch as well, with every bone crunch and lamp flicker adding to the atmosphere of sheer, abject horror.
A Frightening Time Was Had by All
At the end of the day, the story came down to Sister Irene’s faith, which we knew was there from the first film. It’s not like Farmiga underdelivered, as nearly everybody showed up with stellar performances. The only character who felt out of place was Storm Reid’s Sister Debra. She seemed to only be in the film so that Sister Irene wasn’t just monologuing to herself the entire time because she lacked any depth. There was a subplot of her family being victims of racial violence, resulting in a jaded lack of faith, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Anna Popplewell plays Kate, a teacher at the boarding school and the mother of one of the students, Sophie. Kate wasn’t as out of place because she was a source of motivation for Maurice. But, it felt like everything Sister Debra did in the third act could’ve been carried out by Kate. The children also weren’t giving terrible performances; they weren’t great, but far from bad. I nearly cheered when the demon dished out some punishments to the mean girls. Nevertheless, it’s still a demon, and no one exactly deserves a grizzly death for some light bullying.
Valak’s menacing presence was felt all throughout The Nun II, but this wasn’t her best outing because she’s already been the primary villain of two other movies in the franchise, resulting in a lessened impact. Ultimately, good performances, great sound design, and some interesting horrific imagery were weighed down by a predictable, repeated story. But it stands as one of the better films in The Conjuring universe, and if you are a fan of the horror genre, you will have a good time checking this one out in theaters.
The Nun II is playing in theaters from September 8, 2023.