Ever since she popped up to haunt the ghoul-busting Warrens in The Conjuring 2, ‘The Nun’ – aka wimple-wearing demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons) – has proved one of the horror franchise’s most notable breakout monsters. And while 2018’s spin-off prequel The Nun was, sadly, a bit of an unholy mess, The Nun II (‘Valak In The Habit’, anyone?) cleaves to the template set by The Conjuring’s other solo star Annabelle — following a disappointing first film with a considerably stronger second instalment.
Set four years after the 1952-set The Nun, we’re back with Taissa Farmiga’s sweet but slightly solemn Sister Irene — laying low in Italy after her previous demon-battling antics in Romania, but drafted into another chase to track down Valak when a self-immolating priest becomes the latest victim in a series of supernatural clergy-murders. While she teams up with Storm Reid’s newcomer Sister Debra on a journey across Europe, hot on Valak’s tunic-tails, the story’s other thread follows Jonas Bloquet’s returning Maurice — now jobbing as a hunky handyman at a French boarding school, where the girls are being spooked by Valakian visions.
Continues to cement Akela Cooper as a writer with a clear eye for freaky fun.
Directed by franchise veteran Michael Chaves — previously behind The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and the Conjuring-adjacent The Curse Of La Llorona — The Nun II is more coherent than its predecessor, sturdily scripted by Malignant and M3GAN scribe Akela Cooper on story duties (along with credited co-writers Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing). If anything, the screenplay is a little too well-behaved for much of its runtime — like Cooper’s other horror hits, this one spends an admirable amount of time establishing its characters, allowing Sister Debra to outline her tragic backstory and unresolved views on faith to Sister Irene; Maurice to strike up a charming relationship with schoolteacher Kate (Narnia alum Anna Popplewell) and her daughter Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey); and Sister Irene to have Chekhovian flashbacks to her late mother, sure to pay off in Act Three. It all works, but keeps the pace oddly slack at times — a few choice snips might have kept this Nun on the run.
Thankfully, though, as in M3GAN and Malignant, the final act of The Nun II goes unrepentantly loopy — piling on walking corpses, a brilliantly daft demonic creature, an Indiana Jones-ian MacGuffin, and a final battle that splashes around not in a pool of blood, but of crimson wine. Per Cooper’s other work, there’s a knowingness to the carnage that feels like the film is in on the joke, relishing the chance to go for broke in gleefully absurd ways — ripe for a double-bill with The Pope’s Exorcist, dealing in similar religiously tinged schlock.
Elsewhere, the film runs into the biggest flaw of the Nun herself: as instantly iconic as she became in James Wan’s Conjuring sequel, she’s more a strikingly spooky image than a truly terrifying villain, her powers and modus operandi largely undefined. Still, Chaves leans into the vast potential of her on-screen presence, peppering the frame with shapes that look suspiciously nun-like — cloth-draped statues, the cracked paint of a mouldering hallway, a wisp of smoke in a darkened archway. The film’s best sequence sees Valak manifest in the fluttering pages of a newsstand — the scariest thing to happen to magazines since the dawn of the internet.
The result is a middle-of-the-table Conjuring universe film — one unlikely to make a dent in horror history, but well-constructed, with moments of inventive imagery, and that continues to cement Akela Cooper as a writer with a clear eye for freaky fun. Enough, in short, to ensure it’s worth getting thee to a nunnery.