I’ll say one good thing about The Nun II: it’s slightly better than the first one. Of course, that’s not a particularly difficult feat. The movie is part of what Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema are calling “the Conjuring universe,” a fancy way of saying it’s one of many spinoffs from their 2013 blockbuster. Right there, you have the problem with this sequel. It feels like the makers were simply checking a series of boxes, as opposed to telling a story they felt passionate about.
Taissa Farmiga returns as Sister Irene. The Catholic Church assigns her to investigate the suspicious deaths of several priests and nuns across Europe. Aiding her is a novitiate named Debra (Storm Reid). She quickly discovers that “the Demon Nun” (Bonnie Aarons) has inhabited Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), the guy who saved her at the end of the original. He’s now working as a handyman at a boarding school, where he tries to romance teacher Kate (Anna Popplewell) after befriending her daughter Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey). Irene and Debra seek a way to foil whatever evil plan the Demon Nun is hatching.
Storytelling is an afterthought in The Nun II. To advance the plot, Irene tells Debra she’s had a vision that points them in the right direction. We’re not shown that vision, so it comes off as lazy screenwriting. Similarly, when information is needed, Irene conveniently has a friend at the Palais des Papes who can answer all their questions. That man claims to be “a glorified librarian,” yet miraculously has every last little fact they need. Shortcuts like that exist throughout the film, causing it to feel thin.
One-dimensional characters exacerbate the problem. None of them have much in the way of personality. That includes Irene and Debra. Farmiga and Reid are fine actresses but giving them flat people to portray makes the sisters seem like they wandered in from Beverly Hills Nun-0210. The sole figure who does have a little charisma is the Demon Nun. Aarons is appropriately creepy in the role, partially due to the physical look and partially due to the actress’s skill in creating a physicality for the villain. Nevertheless, as in the original, she gets a pitifully small amount of screen time.
The Nun II is an example of nice, safe, major studio horror. By that, I mean it delivers very familiar elements in a pre-programmed way, with no genuine surprises. You know exactly when every jump scare will occur because everything gets quiet for a couple seconds, letting you know a sudden loud clanging noise is about to burst from the soundtrack. You know where the creature will pop out because the set-ups of her few scenes telegraph her appearances. No heavy or distressing ideas are presented that might cause the audience to experience fear on a deeper level.
When you look at what indie horror movies are currently doing, the generic nature becomes even more glaring. There’s none of the thematic depth of Midsommar, none of the under-your-skin edginess of Possessor, none of the outrageous fun of Suitable Flesh. The approach here is pure paint-by-numbers.
The Nun II has a couple moments that come close to being creative, most notably a sequence where Irene has an eerie encounter with the magazines on a newsstand. Director Michael Chaves (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) doesn’t maximize their potential, though, leaving the film precisely what a horror flick should never be – bland.
out of four
The Nun II is rated R for violent content and some terror. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.