The Nun II is a heavyweight fight centering on the classic tale of good vs. evil. In the red & orange corner is Valak (aka the nun) – although, why this blasphemous psycho continues to wear a veil is anyone’s guess. At this point, she’s a ‘nun’ in name only; that tends to happen around the fifth homicide. That’s why in the angelic gold corner, we have Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who appears here to be more Luke Skywalker than a traditional horror heroine. She’s our only hope against the titular fallen angel as we meet up with Sister Irene while she attempts to piece her life back together and continue the faith in the aftermath of the original film.
However, Sister Irene’s brief bit of peace is interrupted when she’s summoned to investigate a series of catastrophes believed to be caused by a returning Valak. Keep in mind that Irene appears to be about five feet nothing and one hundred pounds soaking wet; she looks like a lover, not a fighter. Why didn’t the church think to maybe… call the police? Alert the military? The United Nations? Nope, they think this tiny, poor young nun has it all covered in the face of some ghoul that wouldn’t look out of place in Mortal Kombat. But Sister Irene pushes on and agrees to put her life in danger, for faith and courage are more powerful than intelligence.
Director Michael Chaves’ feature is a mixed bag but a familiar stew of the prevailing formula in the Conjuring universe. That formula has a couple of exceptions, incredible effects, and production design mixed with bland plot mechanics and weak character development. The Nun II was produced on a 38 million dollar budget, which is pretty robust for a horror flick. But perhaps that abundance of resources and staff means there’s less incentive for the studio to push for stronger screenplays. Why bother when it’s the horrifically amazing visual imagery putting asses in seats? How many people even know Taissa Farmiga is the star of this movie?
Instead, The terrific production design takes the focus, and the visual effects are imaginative without coming off as cartoonish. Multiple people are hilariously set ablaze by supernatural forces, and it looks how like whatever floating in the air while on fire would look like. My favorite monster, of many here, is a demonic beast who resembles death personified, but his biggest action is just being held at bay by a door. One of the film’s most chilling visuals is a character coming across a host of evil doppelgangers, but the eye candy in scenes like these can’t leave a meaningful mark because the characters and story are such a blank space.
The story’s rare attempts at character work are middling. Storm Reid appears as a fresh-faced nun following the path of religion as an elixir for the prejudice she’s faced. But there isn’t much to this thread beyond surface-level exposition. Eventually, she discovers Catholicism is the answer just because. The movie has some fun with Jonas Bloquet as an unlucky bloke caught in Valek’s spell. Bloquet looks like the love child of Nicolas Cage and Armie Cannibal; I don’t know if that means he can be a star one day, but he has the potential to at least be a ‘That Guy’ for years to come. He has the only role here with a minuscule of sustenance, alternating between flirty love interest and crazed killer. But the role doesn’t leave an impression – in the annals of possessed characters cosplaying as the baddie, this is barely enough for a footnote due to such uninspired writing.
In many ways, The Nun II resembles a silver screen version of those Netflix-produced Mike Flanagan horror series – but without Flanagan’s love for endless and insufferable monologues. But even Flanagan’s work shows a greater interest in characterization and storytelling. The Nun II mimics those Netflix production qualities but seems uninterested in anything beyond that. The story could be written on a napkin and held together by duct tape. The film’s attempts at building a mythology involve a flimsy origin story for Valek as well as a lackluster MacGuffin. It seems like even a step down from the original 2018 film, removing some of the camp and eye-winking comedy while replacing the dread with just blank stares from the movie’s litany of underserved actors, who are desperately trying to inject fear into repetitive and unimaginative scenarios.
The movie’s themes are vanilla and unchallenging. Irene becomes a master of the Force by simply believing in the Lord really hard and going through trials that would actually build character development. The film’s use of Valek as a fallen angel lacks teeth, failing to tell any type of story about how one becomes a failure in one’s faith or what Valek’s original motivations were. She remains an underdeveloped movie monster, the sequel failing to add anything meaningful to her legend as if the movie might as well not exist.
But I could forgive all of it if the flick was just more fun. Give me the camp, the silliness, the over-the-top thrills. A good horror movie is scary; a great one is scary and funny. The Nun II is rarely either, wasting its eerie atmosphere. Truthfully, I imagine it’ll wash over most viewers rather quickly, even those who enjoy it. But weeks later, most won’t be able to recall key scenes or lines of dialogue. It seems like the Conjuring universe is a bit stale at the moment – not broken, but in need of a tune-up. It’s difficult to instill fear in an audience – similar to the difficulty in getting one to buy into the tenets of organized religion. Both require you to be swept up in the emotion of something that isn’t always physically tangible; it’s about a feeling. The Nun II’s inability to get you to believe in either is one of the few things I’ll actually remember about it.