When the demon nun Valak first appeared in “The Conjuring 2,” she was a spine-tingling tease of what was to come in “The Conjuring” cinematic universe. The paradoxical existence of a demonized sister of the cloth with horrifying sunken black eyes was an exciting promise given the success of those first two films by James Wan. But Valak’s 2018 spin-off, Corin Hardy’s “The Nun,” was a massive disappointment. Its sequel, directed by Michael Chaves, now has the same fate.
“The Nun II” follows Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) five years after the first film’s events. When she befriends Debra (Storm Reid), a newbie nun in a crisis of faith, they are put to the test after the Vatican demands Irene perform another miracle. Valak was not destroyed, and she’s reigning terror on religious figures across Europe. As priests fall victim to gruesome demonic murders, from immolations to hangings and more, Irene and Debra rush to a French boarding school to figure out Valak’s motive and how to send her back to hell.
As the series’ titular nun, Valak is the core of the film’s horrific efforts. And yet “The Nun II” performs accidental exposure therapy, showing their monster at absolutely every turn, almost immediately desensitizing us to her presence. There’s a reason bogeymen and ghosts are feared in the shadows; their mystery breeds fear. Valak (played again by Bonnie Aarons) is spotlighted at every turn, from traditional hero shots to terrible CGI renditions that occur with fatiguing frequency. She becomes an expected visitation rather than an intentional thrill, and what is meant to startle only provokes a sigh.
There’s an overall lack of thoughtfulness in “The Nun II” regarding scares, and Chaves is vehemently loyal to oversaturated tropes. The movie starkly neglects creativity and, in turn, lacks effective fear. With constant slow pans and loud bangs, Chaves’ film signals its viewers at every turn, telling us to be scared rather than inspiring it organically. It reads more as a series of vignettes following a strict quota on scares, with narrative dexterity low on the priority list.
Farmiga is the best part of the film, with her performance as Irene presenting nuance and development. Where Irene was timid in the first movie, she now knows her power, and Farmiga brings a level of gusto to the film even as she encounters threats and traumatic memories at every turn. Farmiga has chemistry with Reid but carries most of the weight as Reid functions as more of a sidekick than an equal power. Still, Farmiga’s light is less of a beacon and more of a flickering bulb, trying its best to illuminate a film without the wiring to support her.
Jonas Bloquet reprises his role of Maurice, now working as a handyman at the girls’ boarding school. His budding romance with a teacher there and his protectiveness over her daughter, whom older girls are bullying, injects emotion into the narrative and sets some stakes. However, much of his inclusion becomes equally as cyclical as the rest of the film. Bloquet gives a good performance but is handed a pancaked narrative arc that doesn’t permit much interest.
“The Nun II” is just not built with the acuity or surprise level conducive to a successful horror film. It floods its runtime with an oversaturation of every trick in the book. While returning performers Farmiga and Bloquet give what they can, their emotional efforts are betrayed by a wholly underwhelming script.
In theaters now.
The Nun II (2023)
Taissa Farmigaas Sister Irene
Jonas Bloquetas Maurice Theriault
Bonnie Aaronsas The Nun / Valak
Storm Reidas Sister Debra
Katelyn Rose Downeyas Sophie
Anna Popplewellas Marcella
Vera Farmigaas Lorraine Warren
Patrick Wilsonas Ed Warren
- Michael Chaves
Writer (based on characters created by)
- James Wan
- Gary Dauberman
- Ian Goldberg
- Richard Naing
- Akela Cooper
- Tristan Nyby
- Gregory Plotkin
- Marco Beltrami