Let’s be real. It can’t be easy to be the ninth installment in any franchise, let alone one that audiences expect to reinvent the demonic possession wheel over and over and over again. And that’s exactly what The Nun II is: The ninth entry in the wildly-popular, decade-old Conjuring series, which tells stories of insidious supernatural forces across various time periods and locations.
Directed by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) and written by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper (M3GAN, Malignant), The Nun II takes place five years after The Nun, which ended with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and her hunky sidekick Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) supposedly defeating the evil nun once and for all, and living happily ever after.
But nine-plus-part series don’t tend to conform to the whole “ending” thing, so when, in The Nun II, Sister Irene is informed that there is something creepy going on at a church in France, she doesn’t waste much time before packing her bags and hitting the road with a young misfit novitiate named Debra (Storm Reid).
If you’re expecting The Nun II to offer much of anything that The Nun didn’t, you should probably save yourself the disappointment. This sequel does little to differentiate itself from its predecessor. At their cores, the stories are more-or-less the same: An earnest nun travels to a creaky old establishment to take down a bloodthirsty nun by employing a sacred relic. What a cliché, right?
To give credit where credit is due, The Nun II is considerably more creative in its execution of The Nun’s plot. A scene where a newspaper stand produces a spine-chilling likeness of the nun is not only creepy as hell, but it’s also a seriously impressive feat from the film’s FX team. Similarly, a plot device involving a stained-glass goat is inventive enough to put a smile on your face, as is the wildly bone-chilling sacred relic.
Given these clear moments of thoughtfulness and inventiveness, it’s a shame that Chaves refuses to let any of The Nun II’s scares speak for themselves. Each reveal or jump scare—and there are enough to make your head spin—is accompanied by a deafening bang, as if to say, “That was a scary part, in case you were confused!” We’ve watched nine of these already, Michael–give us some credit!
While The Nun II does often shine in its creativity and sheer weirdness, other areas in which it attempts to veer from The Nun prove less successful. The sequel is a little more heavy-handed in drawing out its own moral compass, which seems to be “Believe in God, and you can defeat anything,” even…a glowy-eyed, fang-toothed, yassified nun? Which isn’t to say that morals don’t sometimes work to ground horror movies, but is The Nun II really a film that is supposed to be taken so dang seriously? And even if Chaves did decide that The Nun II is a story destined for bitter seriousness, the whole “have faith” angle feels like a bit of a copout.
Besides, The Nun II doesn’t need a specifically charted out emotional core—it has Taissa Farmiga! Both vulnerable and resolute, she plays Sister Irene with a memorable, cheeky earnestness. And though Reid is wonderful and tender as always, giving a convincing crack at a young woman experiencing a crisis of faith, it is Farmiga that steals the show.
For a franchise as prolific as The Conjuring, an entry that checks as many boxes as The Nun II (good performances, great plot devices) should be seen as something of a plus. If you’re expecting a totally original horror flick, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re looking for a film that cohesively fits into and helps explain the Conjuring universe, you should know better by now. But if you’re looking for nothing more and nothing less than a film where a barbaric nun slaughters everyone in its sight, well, look no further. Everyone else will be nun too pleased.
Director: Michael Chaves
Writers: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, Akela Cooper
Stars: Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell, Bonnie Aarons
Release Date: September 7, 2023
Aurora Amidon is a film journalist and passionate defender of Hostel: Part II. Follow her on Twitter for her latest questionable culture takes.