As a sequel to 2018’s The Nun, and a spin-off to The Conjuring, this film feels like a bit of a wash. I’ll credit it for feeling more like a gothic supernatural horror of an evil nun spirit than the previous film, which segwayed hard into an Indiana Jones tomb-raiding tale by its finale. There’s a better setting, more at stake, and some decently staged moments of terror and kills. But when all is said and done, the sequel still comes off more routine than it should, making it feel just as ho-hum as the first film.
The adventures continue for Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), whom the Church once more dispatches to investigate the reappearance of that old demon nun (Bonnie Aarons). She’s back and targeting the children of a religious boarding school. Paired up with the novice Sister Debra (Storm Reid), who finds herself questioning her faith and believing in stuff like the blood of Jesus. She might have to when it comes to dealing with demons, as that seems to be the right cure for fighting a demon. There are problems with the possessed boarding school helper Maurice (Jonas Bloquet) and the student Sophie, who would rather not witness him turn into a murdering monster.
This is the type of film where the investigation of this mysterious nun demon is not all that engaging, especially when realizing that all of this will lead to a predictable showdown of keeping the spirits at bay. The best way to judge these films is on the effectiveness of their scary setpieces. To the film’s credit, there’s some compelling craft in a handful of scenes. One of the best bits features a spooky newsstand where the pages of the magazines open together to form the visage of the nun. It’s set up well, even if it loses that luster when the lights flicker, and the nun pops out of the pages. That said, there’s a surprisingly higher level of violence, even though scenes of people getting bodies contorted or stabbed by horns don’t hit as hard as they should.
It feels like there’s a struggle to keep the titular nun in the dark for this type of story. The more we learn about this figure and the many times she graces the screen, her mystery grows. The first few times she flashes in and out of the shadows like an eerie hologram are effective moments of establishing the terror. The scene where we watch her lunge out of a painting is less frightening for the lukewarm visual effect of a painting stretching outward. By the time the film gets to the big showdown of the boarding school girls trying to dodge the attacks of a demon and Irene trying to drown the nun in Jesus blood/wine, it becomes so much of a spectacle that the next film might as well be called The Nun versus Annabelle.
The Nun II is more interesting for its visual assembly than anything within its stock paranormal horror of faith saving the day against a cavalcade of rollercoaster moments of fright. It offers up about as many jumpscares and spooky atmospheres as expected from the long-running horror saga. But while The Conjuring felt invigorating and compelling when it debuted in theaters ten years ago, the Nun II comes like a lesser spin-off that struggles to find extra terror, as though the run-off would be enough to make more films from. There might be some faith for a better Conjuring entry down the line, but the faithful may have to hold out for another movie longer.