THE STORY – In 1956, in France, a priest is violently murdered, and Sister Irene begins to investigate. She once again comes face-to-face with a powerful evil.
THE CAST – Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell, Bonnie Aarons, Katelyn Rose Downey, Suzanne Bertish, Léontine d’Oncieu & Anouk Darwin Homewood
THE TEAM – Michael Chaves (Director), Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing & Akela Cooper (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
She’s back in the habit! Just in time for the start of the Halloween season (for those of us lunatics who dive right in on September 1st), The Demon Nun – as she’s officially credited – has returned to cause more mayhem. First introduced in a particularly memorable sequence in “The Conjuring 2,” theatergoers last encountered her in 2018’s “The Nun.” The latter film’s direct sequel now floats into cinemas with yet another frightening test of faith. Thankfully, “The Nun II” is a significant step up from its dull predecessor. While it takes some time to really get going, once the movie finds its footing, the filmmakers construct consistently clever scares to keep the audience jumping.
When we last saw the spooky sister (Bonnie Aarons), she was haunting a monastery in Romania before being seemingly defeated by an older priest, a young postulant named Irene (Taissa Farmiga), and Maurice, a local villager (Jonas Bloquet). Now, after a series of priests and nuns met violent ends across Europe, it appears the demonic Valak is back. This time, the nun is terrorizing a boarding school in France, and Sister Irene must once again come face to face with the hellish defiler.
The Conjuring Universe is one of the more uneven ones out there. While the original “The Conjuring” and its direct sequel “The Conjuring 2” are both a good spooky time, its spin-offs have been less reliably well-made. “Annabelle,” “The Nun,” and “The Curse of La Llorona” are all less effective let-downs, as is the threequel “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” Strangely, the two “Annabelle” sequels – “Creation” and “Comes Home” – are vast improvements on the original film, likely thanks to the ingenuity of their directors (David F. Sandberg and Gary Dauberman, respectively).
“The Nun II” is helmed by director Michael Chaves, who seemingly only makes feature films if they’re part of the Conjuring Universe – his film resume only otherwise consists of “The Curse of La Llorona” and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.” His latest film, thankfully, is his best one yet. From the opening sequence where a priest is destroyed in a horrifying fashion, Chaves makes it clear that his movie will be a nasty, uncompromising occasion. None of the characters, regardless of age, rank, or position, are safe from the titular demon.
The film may start strong, but that doesn’t mean it maintains that energy throughout. Especially in the first hour, the pacing drags, with some lifeless exposition scenes carried out with a feeling of leaden obligation. It may only run 15 minutes more than “The Nun,” but this sequel feels significantly longer. However, the final sequence is thrilling, with several concurrent set pieces building on top of each other to create a house of cards of frights. One goat-like creature who terrorizes the characters in this portion of the film is particularly scary, thanks to some devilishly good design and costuming.
As with so many modern Hollywood movies, “The Nun II” is apparently shot with as little light as possible. Obviously, that’s often to obscure what can be seen for the purpose of a frightening revelation, but it sometimes feels as if something is possibly being lost in the darkness on screen. Still, there are some pleasing moments of framing, showing that care went into the cinematography and blocking. Marco Beltrami’s score is also an effective addition to the frights, bringing an appropriate grandness to the church-based story.
Taissa Farmiga is back as Sister Irene. She’s unquestionably the sole lead this time, and her performance, like nearly all aspects of this movie, is an upgrade from the first film. Whereas in “The Nun,” she’s a bit vacant, here she brings a newfound fierceness to the character. In fact, she and Storm Reid (playing a younger nun named Sister Debra) deliver some excellent screams that will make horror fans happy. As the nun herself, Bonnie Aarons brings an unquestionably menacing quality to her silent character. Obviously, the frightening makeup is doing a lot of work, but Aarons knows precisely how to mold her face and hold an expression to constantly find new ways to scare the characters and the audience. Also returning from the previous film is Jonas Bloquet as Maurice (thankfully, this film refrains from calling him “Frenchie,” his previously used creaky nickname). While he’s charming enough in his more humane scenes, he’s not quite as well-equipped to play the demonic side of his possessed character. He’s limited to merely making a series of snarling faces.
Thanks to some vicious violence, well-crafted scares, and an exhilarating finale, “The Nun II” is a welcome improvement on the tedious first film. It’s not the most consistently propulsive scary movie. Still, anyone looking for a simply enjoyable horror film with some images that will stick with them long after the credits roll is sure to be satisfied with this offering.