The Nun II is a Tedious and Scare-Free Sister Act

Lazy jump scares and a lack of suspense and thematic substance make for a plodding throwaway.

6 mins read

Memo to The Nun II filmmakers: you had one job. If nothing else, a horror film must provide thrills. While the new sequel to the 2018 hit The Nun may look great, it is dull, overlong and scare-free.

The eighth—yes, eighth—picture in “The Conjuring universe,” a series of films (Annabelle, The Conjuring sequels, etc.) where only James Wan’s 2013 original is any good, The Nun II has nothing to say about supernatural evil, strange for a movie about a demonic spirit systematically dispatching humanity. Once upon a time when the supernatural prototype The Exorcist (1974) debuted, the notion that evil could exist and perhaps be cast out rode the wave of the 70s’ cultural “Satanic panic,” ushering in as a slew of not good films that capitalized on special effects and diminished what made The Exorcist so powerful—an ordinary mother and daughter thrust into unimaginable horror, a crisis of faith and the unfailing need of a parent to protect a child. 

Things have now fallen so far in the genre that a film like The Nun II tries to get away with being solely about an evil nun whose spirit, in a pact with the devil if I interpreted correctly, has returned to wreak supernatural havoc. Jettisoned is any thematic consideration of evil on the world, and people, it has chosen to inhabit. Instead, the picture trots out the lazy standard known as jump scares, where something is lurking in a dark corner and then jumps out, accompanied by a loud crash of music. Such tricks are all The Nun II has to offer, and the effect is simply the jolt of an amusement park ride looking to momentarily toss one around; forget any genuine suspense or elevation. No doubt this will matter little to genre die hards, but in a world where strong horror pictures like last year’s Smile and this year’s Talk to Me possessed both artistry and substance, The Nun II is a low-aiming throwaway.

Directed by series veteran Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) in handsome widescreen compositions—the picture’s best suit—The Nun II opens strongly enoug with a well-mounted sequence involving the murderous immolation of a French priest in 1956 Tarascon, a well-designed, creepy and promising start. Forget that everyone in this European-set picture speaks perfect English in a variety of indistinguishable accents.

From its effective opener the movie quickly goes downhill, vastly overestimating the fear factor of its ungodly villain, who turns out not to be very frightening. The nun herself, Valak—a hellish entity that takes the form of a nun but is really an angel cast away by God—is on the hunt for descendants of one martyred St. Lucy, set ablaze by a pagan centuries earlier. Exactly why the demon is fixated on St. Lucy is another story, but suffice to say it’s searching for an ancient, hidden relic or two.

Not a bad premise, but the human characters caught up in the thrills are wanly written, starting with the returning Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who has no texture outside the mystery. Ditto rebellious sidekick Sister Debra (Storm Reid), who is more of a character sketch than a real  person. Sister Irene and Sister Debra are in residence at an Italian convent before being summoned by the Cardinal to France, where a boarding school is the new site of some potential demonic activity and workplace of handyman Maurice (Jonas Bloquet, also returning), an unwitting instrument of Valak’s reign of terror. 

A padded 110-minute runtime gives us bland schoolgirl Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey) and protective mom Kate (Anna Popplewell, good), stern headmistress Madame Laurent (Suzanne Bertish), the usual pre-teen bullies and, most interesting of all, a devil goat that springs from a stained glass window. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the cruel adolescent-impaling-by-goat-horns in the film’s final reel. 

As far as jump scares go, The Nun II provides plenty of shock cuts, blaring music and “gotcha” moments that quickly diffuse; there is not one skillfully built suspense sequence in a picture happy to assemble the requisite boo moments, which may startle you but ultimately leave you feeling empty and manipulated, Chaves and team doing little to craft genuine tension. Sans frights, anyone substantial to root for or a truly menacing villain, The Nun II is well-shot tedium. 

1.5 stars

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