The Nun II review: Creature of habit is back for more

The Nun II
The Nun II

The Nun II

When the habit-wearing demon of the title actually shows up onscreen, The Nun II briefly becomes entertaining, if not quite coherent, as her power set appears near-infinite. Hitching a ride across Europe inside the body of a French groundskeeper named Maurice (a returning Jonas Bloquet), she’s by no means corporeally confined, breaking free with some regularity to strangle children and set priests on fire, while sending scary visions across hundreds of miles to her returning arch-nemesis, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga).

That might make the movie sound a lot more fun than it is, so let’s be clear: Valak the evil nun from Hell (Bonnie Aarons) doesn’t actually get much screen time. Serving a stupendously misguided story structure, the script keeps her and Irene separate for two thirds of the movie—Demián Bichir’s Father Burke died /on the way back to his home planet/ of cholera between films—forcing us to spend time with young students we don’t really care about at a girls’ school, and to watch Irene’s bonding with colleague Sister Debra (Storm Reid), whose key character trait is she can’t literally believe the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. The plot, of course, will ultimately hinge upon this exact point.

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The original The Nun stood out among its Conjuring brethren for being an unapologetic monster movie in a franchise and cinematic era of unseen spirits bumping in the night. Like Freddy, Pinhead, or Chucky, Valak has an instantly distinctive look, and her frightening stare was worth everything they ought to be paying Bonnie Aarons. The character’s gender remains mildly unclear—the demon Valak is referred to as male, but its form as the Nun is definitely female and played by an actress, and as such, is a rare horror icon-in-the-making who isn’t a guy, at least usually. She now has one thing in common with the boys’ club, though ... all of them have had to suffer at least one mediocre sequel.

The similar The Pope’s Exorcist, released earlier this year, wasn’t particularly a great movie, but it was self aware enough to create some memorable moments. However unlikely it may sound, The Nun II makes one pine for Russell Crowe’s Gabriel Amorth to show up and start yelling at Valak in his Super Mario accent. Never mind if he’s convincing or not; he’s at least more compelling than Generic Cute Teacher Lady, or Smiling Daughter Nicknamed “Captain” For Some Reason. At times some of the scenes in the girls’ school seem to be setting up a junior version of Mean Girls, but they never distinguish any of the kids in any interesting way. One has more of a French accent than the rest, and that’s about it.

On the 4K commentary track for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Chris Miller and Phil Lord note that a story sweet spot is to let the audience figure things out for themselves, then right as they do, offer them a detail that confirms what they thought. Michael Chaves overdoes this, by keeping his movie about 30 minutes behind the audience. At least the jump scares are effective, especially in IMAX theaters where the headrests rumble every time Valak makes a sudden move. That, and a couple of decent makeup tricks are pretty much all The Nun II has. The character deserves better, and so do you.

The Nun II opens in theaters September 8

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