As a youngster in Catholic school, I once witnessed a nun shake a student so hard that she ripped off his shirt collar. It was the same year James Wan was born. Coincidence? Maybe not. Upon reflection, I have concluded the elementary school incident was not just a random act of violence but a prophecy that would lead me to the habit-forming Conjuring universe where I would once again bear witness to demon nuns gone wild.
‘The Nun II” is helmed by Michael Chaves who directed “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” and “The Curse of La Llorona.” It’s based on a story by Akela Cooper, horror’s talented newcomer who penned 2021’s “Malignant” and 2022’s “M3GAN.”
Taissa Farmiga reprises her role as Sister Irene who last time out had just defeated the demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons) by pulling a “Reverse Regan” thus spewing the blood of Christ in the evil nun’s face — “Go in there with all you’ve got and win just one for Father Karras” — that was five years ago in “The Nun” a spinoff of “The Conjuring 2” directed by Corin Hardy.
This ninth installment of the Conjuring franchise is hit and miss with more hits than misses. Chaves does a commendable job of creating tension leading to a few good scares and above-average special effects making this a viable entry in the horror franchise created by James Wan ten years ago.
The film opens in 1956 France, four years after the events of “The Nun.” Valak is once again on the loose this time terrorizing the small commune of Tarascon. In a small church, an altar boy named Jacques (Maxime Elias-Menet) witnesses evil firsthand when Father Noiret (Pascal Aubert) is suspended in midair and burned alive by the malevolent nun. It’s a frightening scene with creepy special effects including boiling holy water evaporating in the font.
Sister Irene is now serving in a convent in Italy where she’s dealing with novice Sister Debra (Storm Reid) who is having second thoughts about becoming a nun. Usually, when this happens in a movie it’s because the nun develops feelings for someone and begins questioning her Vow of Chastity. Not Sister Debra. She’s not sure about the whole Christianity thing, particularly the hocus pocus miracle part, and the Eucharist representing the Body of Christ. I know what you’re thinking, “Maybe this is not her calling.” Sister Irene talks some sense into Sister Debra, and all is well. Or is it?
The Vatican higher-ups show up in Italy to give Sister Irene a new assignment. She is to travel to Tarascon and investigate the growing number of murders including the death of Father Noiret. Her BFF, Sister Debra stows away and the two begin investigating the strange occurrences which lead them to a Catholic boarding school where we find a familiar face, Maurice “Frenchie” Theriault (Jonas Bloquet), the farmer-turned-handyman from “The Nun” who survived being possessed by Valak.
Maurice has chilled out a lot (possession will do that) and so he spends most of his time tending his garden while befriending bullied student Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey) and her mother Kate (Anna Popplewell) who teaches at the school. You remember the fate that awaits Maurice as seen at the end of the 2018 film, where the timeline jumps ahead 20 years to Wakefield, Massachusetts. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) give a lecture while discussing an exorcism they conducted on a once-again possessed Maurice. That indicates that we may be looking at a “Nun” trilogy and by the way, make sure you stay for a mid-credit scene.
“The Nun II” is darker and more frightening than its predecessor. Valak, played by the great Bonnie Aarons, is beginning to resemble Art the Clown from “The Terrifier” films and while most of the frights are jump scares, there’s no denying the setup is tense. The gothic atmosphere and shadowy glimpses of the terrifying nun make for the perfect horror atmosphere. Tristan Nyby’s cinematography, with just the right amount of lighting, helps maintain the momentum, and as a bonus, we get a creepy thurible-slinging altar boy ghost (Guillermo del Toro’s “The Devil’s Backbone” vibes) and a demonic black goat thing that’s either Doja Cat or Satan.
The script written by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, and Akela Cooper reveals Valak’s backstory and more insight into Sister Irene’s connection to St. Lucy. I did find the Maurice-Sophie-Kate connection a bit hokey but overall “The Nun II” is better than the first film and the scares are wicked good.
Now showing in theaters