"The Nun II" stars Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell, Katelyn Rose Downey, and Bonnie Aarons. Released on September 8, 2023, the film has Sister Irene encountering the return of Valak.
The film is directed by Michael Chaves, who also directed "The Curse of La Llorona" and "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It". It is the sequel to the 2018 film "The Nun" and the ninth installment in the Conjuring Universe. I hope you're not planning on attending church on Sunday because that creepy nun has returned, and based on my experience watching her, she isn't full of holiness. "The Conjuring", one of the most effective supernatural films of the 2010s, has birthed a cinematic universe akin to the ones from Marvel and DC, along with its slew of monstrous beings. The Warrens have encountered plenty of ghoulish and murderous specters during their careers as paranormal investigators, including the infamous Annabelle doll and the "Crooked Man". However, there's one particular demon they confronted that's so terrifying you'll be praying for mercy for hours, maybe even days. That's right, I'm referring to Valak, a demonic nun who haunts unsuspecting victims, including those who believe in the Holy Spirit.
After scaring the pants off of Lorraine Warren and the Hodgson family in "The Conjuring 2", Valak received her first spin-off film in 2018 titled "The Nun". Despite gaining negative reviews, that movie became the highest-grossing installment of the "Conjuring" cinematic universe…to everyone's misfortune. Of course, it's enough to convince the studio behind "The Nun" to expand upon Valak's path of destruction via its sequel. Like its predecessor, the follow-up seeks to start this year's horror movie season on the right foot and maybe avoid the pitfalls that plagued the nun's first solo adventure. Was it able to answer our prayers for a tolerable "Conjuring" outing, or was it another pointless horror sequel that makes us want to kill it with holy water? Let's find out.
The story occurs four years after the first film. It again follows Sister Irene (Farmiga), a nun who survived her previous encounter with Valak (Aarons), a demonic presence posing as a nun. Her latest venture finds herself traveling across France, where she's tasked to investigate the murder of several priests. She later discovers that the mysterious murder spree was caused by Valak, who returns to haunt and harm the students at a boarding school, including Sophie (Downey). Irene, along with Sister Debra (Reid), must muster up the courage to confront the demon that's been haunting her for years.
As much as I enjoyed the main "Conjuring" movies, its spin-offs involving its monstrous demons are pretty mediocre, in my eyes. Except for "Annabelle: Creation", the side-adventures in the "Conjuring" universe failed to match the similar impact James Wan created for the first two "Conjuring" installments. From the subpar narratives to the constant jump scares, these one-offs are pointless cash grabs that are less terrifying than the actual Warren cases. That includes 2018's "The Nun", a bland and less-than-scary depiction of Valak bringing its unholiness across Romania. Aside from its cast and disturbing atmosphere handled by director Corin Hardy, "The Nun" is like any other cheap horror film: all jump scares and no substance.
So, you might be wondering why I'm seeing its sequel if I don't like its predecessor that much. The answer is simple: I like Valak for its frightening presence, and its director change gave me a little hope that it'll take the "Ouija" route, in which its follow-up was a massive improvement over its trashy predecessor. Michael Chaves takes over the directorial duty from Hardy for "The Nun II". His directorial debut, "The Curse of La Llorona", left a horrible curse on me, but not in a good way. However, he improved himself with the recent "Conjuring" sequel, "The Devil Made Me Do It" two years later, but not by much. It wasn't as bad as its spin-offs, but I still found it the weakest film in the main outings. So now we have Chaves's third "Conjuring" film in his career, which tasked him with honoring Valak's unnerving nature seen in "The Conjuring 2" and "The Nun". After witnessing the return of the demonic nun, I'm surprised to say that he accomplished that goal.
Now, I wouldn't be quick to call it the next "Ouija 2" or the next "Annabelle: Creation". It's still plagued by the Hollywood sins that prevented it from reaching similar heights as the main "Conjuring" movies. However, I would say that it answered my prayer of being the most tolerable "Conjuring" spin-off installment since "Creation". One reason is Michael Chaves himself. After directing two "Conjuring" installments, it's safe to say that Chaves may have found his groove in providing the franchise's dark tone. Like "The Nun", the sequel benefits from its atmosphere that manifests the nightmarish and unholy sense of dread that'll keep you awake at night. Regarding the production design, lighting, and cinematography, Chaves is another horror director who knows how to make audiences feel uncomfortable through its settings and terrifying imagery. I mean, just looking at the images of Valak is enough to send shivers down people's spines.
Along with the atmosphere, Chaves did pretty well in providing a sense of terror in its scares. Some jump scares weren't as effective as others, but when they do work, they're more creepy than silly, unlike its predecessor. Sure, there were a couple of scenes that may look dumb, but they don't feel too out of place regarding the film's tone. It's dark and gruesome in its frights and kills, but it's also entertaining. The best example is during the third act, where Irene and Debra confront Valak at the boarding school. I can't say much else about it without spoilers, but I can say it's one of my favorite sequences in the "Conjuring" franchise.
Another thing that made it a suitable improvement was the characters. Its predecessor introduced us to two characters who are as interesting as a plank of wood, including Sister Irene and Frenchie (Bloquet), also known as Maurice. Those two characters unsurprisingly return for the sequel because why not? However, "The Nun II" did the impossible by making them more caring than in the first film. We have Sister Irene serving as a teacher for Debra, as she teaches her about their belief in God. Then, there's Frenchie, who works at the boarding school and befriends Sophie. With these two relationships present, they help the movie provide characters who are more than just one-dimensional victims of the supernatural's reign of terror. The cast followed suit in delivering some respectable performances, including Taissa Farmiga, who offered another satisfying portrayal of Sister Irene. Storm Reid also serves as a solid addition to the "Conjuring" lineup as Debra, further proving herself as another young, talented actress to root for. Jonas Bloquet was decent in his role as Frenchie, and Bonnie Aarons continues to deliver the chills and frights regarding her performance as Valak.
As for its flaws, "The Nun II" fell short of godliness due to its screenplay. While the characters' relationships and themes are some of the film's highlights, the execution of its cliches is mildly bare-boned to the point where it doesn't stand out from other supernatural horror movies. But if a simplistic plot is what you want, you'll likely be satisfied with the result. If not, you're not getting much out of it besides Valak terrorizing people and its engaging finale. The biggest sin in the screenplay was the ending. Without spoilers, it makes the whole experience seem pointless in the franchise's timeline, considering how the first film's conclusion connects to the first two "Conjuring" films. It's not as terrible as the one from "The Turning", but it is something the filmmakers should reconsider before adding it to the film. There are also a couple of sequences involving the shaky-cam technique that were very distracting to me. Combined with the film's dim lighting, the shaky cam makes specific scenes extremely difficult to see what's happening. They didn't deter my experience with everything else, but they are as painful as getting splashed by holy water.
Overall, "The Nun II" answered most of our prayers of being a tolerable and creepily enjoyable follow-up, even if it struggles to confess its familiar sins. Since I wasn't a massive fan of "The Nun", my expectations for the sequel were unsurprisingly low, as I thought of it as another way to cash in on the franchise without any effort put into it. However, I was mildly surprised to see that it wasn't the case. Even though it's not a great horror sequel due to its familiar troupes and ending, the movie did what its predecessor should've done: become a force of terror that takes advantage of its characters and Catholic-related themes. From its decent cast to Michael Chaves's bone-chilling vision, "The Nun II" is another horror follow-up worthy enough for me to say "Hallelujah". If you enjoy its predecessor and the other "Conjuring" installments, you might also enjoy this one.