The Nun II (2023) Review
In 2018, The Conjuring cinematic universe prepared to explore the past of the main demonic antagonist of 2016’s The Conjuring 2 with the release of The Nun. Directed by Corin Hardy, the film, which starred Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, and Bonnie Aarons, follows a Roman Catholic priest and a nun in her novitiate training as they are sent to investigate a recent murder at a monastery in Romania, yet ultimately uncover an unholy demon that has been unearthed. The Nun had mixed reviews from critics and moviegoers, with most praising the performances of the cast, the scare tactics, and the cinematic atmospheric that feature invokes, but was criticized for its weak narrative and inconsistent logic in a few key areas. That being said, the movie did find success at the box office worldwide, with the feature grossing $365 million against its $22 million production budget, becoming the highest grossing film of The Conjuring series (even to this date of this review). Thus, given the palpable taste that the franchise had on the demon Valak, it was announced shortly after The Nun’s release that a follow-up picture would materialize in the near future. Now, after five years since the last appearance of “the marquis of snakes”, Warner Bros. Studios and director Michael Chaves return to the terror and demonic possession of the vile nun in the release of The Nun II. Does this sequel shine bright against the darkness or is it flat and lackluster horror movie that’s not worth your time?
The year is 1957 and a sinister malice has settled in at a boarding school in France, with the demon Valek (Bonnie Aarons) returning from the shadowy depths and terrorizing the students and staff therein, including teacher Kate (Anna Popplewell), her daughter Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey), and maintenance staff Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), who previously had a run in with the vile creature. Called back into the foray by the Catholic Church is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who thwarted Valek’s attempt for power before, tasked with investigating reports of the sudden return. She’s paired with Sister Debra (Storm Reid), a novice sister, with the pair setting out to find evidence of Valek’s presence and research her new mission of terror and power, trying to deduce why she’s returned and what she is seeking. What unfolds is something quite disturbing as answers slowly come to light, while violence acts are in full force, with Valek stalking its victims in the shadows as Sister Irene and Debra combat the demonic presence, while trying to save Sophie and Maurice from a horrible fate.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve stated many times in my reviews, I’m not much of a horror movie fan. It’s usually not my personal “cup of tea” viewing experience, especially with some delving into what I call the “stuff of nightmares”, with bone-chilling acts of violence, gruesome deaths, and gory blood around every corner. That being said, some horror features have entertained me enough to become enjoyable to my liking, especially ones that are a little bit more thought-out than your “run-of-the-mill” endeavors. The Conjuring movies are some of those grouping. Not quite all of them, but mostly the core main titles ones, especially 2016’s The Conjuring 2, which introduced the character Valak, a demonic being that takes the guise of devilish nun. Maybe it was the contrast of an evil creature in the outward appearance of a Catholic nun (almost mocking the religious faith of a wolf in sheep’s clothing), but I found Valak to be an interesting antagonist. Better yet, I think a lot of people did, which is why a two years The Nun was released in theaters and showcased more terrorizing from Valak in her own personal spin-off feature that was set within the Conjuring film universe. The story, while not the most original, felt good and appropriate something like demonic nun running amok in a covenant. The characters were a bit stock-like and stereotypical for the horror genre, but the overall atmospheric nature was terrific and definitely made the movie. In the end, while not the quintessential horror of the decade (let alone that year), The Nun proved that spin-off endeavor can be a good thing, especially if the villain and presentation work in the narrative’s favor.
This brings me back to talking about The Nun II, a 2023 horror film and the follow-up sequel to the 2018 film The Nun. As stated earlier, given the reception that this particular spin-off project in the Conjuring series, it seems like a forgone conclusion that a sequel would be greenlit by the studio, which was soon after. However, given the landscape of what was planned from the horror franchise, including Annabelle Comes Home, The Curse of La Llorona, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Nun II languished on the backburner for quite some time. It wasn’t until April 2022 when Warner Bros. officially announced the sequel and that Taissa Farmiga and Jonas Bloquet would be coming back to reprise their characters as well as actress Bonnie Aaron, who would reprise her roles as main title character of the Nun (Valak). After that, I didn’t hear much about the project for much of the rest of 2022. I did hear that it was going to be coming out in September 2023, so it was something to look forward to after the summer movie lineups of that year. It wasn’t until the summer of 2023 that I began to see the film’s movie trailer appear both online and in theaters (during the “coming soon” previews). From the trailer alone, the movie looked quite appealing, interjecting the same type of spooky and horror vibe that the first film had and seems like a good continuation of what began in 2018. So, I was definitely ready to see what lay in store for The Nun II when it was scheduled to be theatrically released on September 8th, 2023. However, due to being on vacation (out of the country) when it first came out, I had to wait a couple of weeks to get a chance to see the movie as well as to review. So, with some time free to do so, I’m ready to share my personal opinion on this film. And what did I think of it? Well, it was actually pretty good and exactly what I was expecting it to be. Despite a few clunky mechanics and the stereotypical “too much jump scares” tactics and tropes, The Nun II still manages to carry the same type of atmospheric bravado and horror thrills that were first presented in the 2018 film. Like its predecessor, it’s not exactly quintessential horror movie, but it was still entertaining and had enough scary elements to make the whole endeavor enjoyable to watch.
The Nun II is directed by Michael Chaves, who previously directed such films as The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Thus, given his familiarity of working both within the Conjuring series as well as horror features, Chaves seems like the most obvious and suitable choice for tackling such a project as this. In this regard, I think that Chaves succeeds by helming the film with enough gumption and confidence in his skills to make the whole endeavor like solid continuation of what began in the first Nun picture. Like any installment in a long / expansive franchise, the character of Valak may have started out as just a central antagonist in The Conjuring 2, but this movie continues to prove that there’s a lot detail and backstory that could be made out of a new spin-off tale, with Chaves relishing the chance to prove the point to the letter. In essence, what began was just for scares and chilling horrors weaves a bit more story elements to help “pull the punches” in have larger stakes that just your rudimentary horror feature. Chaves keeps that notion in mind by shaping The Nun II with a more of narrative bite to it all, with story elements of mystery and intrigue to help further characters along the way (fleshing some points as well) and pushing what began in the 2018 film. Thus, this sequel feels like a genuine branch extension to the previous installment, following the journeys of both Sister Irene and Maurice as they are drawn back into the horror nightmares that Valak has in store for them. Plus, Chaves keeps up The Nun’s overarching themes of spiritual connections and personal religious faith, finding character conflicted and unsure of their own beliefs and stratagems against such an otherworldly demon foe.
Also, for the horror elements, I felt that Chaves does a pretty good job, displaying burst of acts of violence that are gruesome without becoming off-putting or just for show, yet also shows the sheer terror of what Valak can do with her demonic powers. Again, this particular aspect this a horror films “bread and butter” and Chaves doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with The Nun II capturing the same type of maniac and unsettling creepiness that the previous entry was able to capture as well as The Conjuring flagship installments of which this movie is branched off of. Additionally, I felt that the movie’s pacing was pretty good and actually holds its own. While I felt certain aspects (character and story) could’ve been expanded upon (or handled better), Chaves makes The Nun II have a quicker pace than others endeavors in this horror franchise. Events and sequences come quick and at a proper timing, which makes the feature live more alive, especially how enjoyable it is and not so much a slog fest. So, despite the fact that the movie is nearly two hours long (110 minutes in length), it doesn’t feel as long as that, which (in hindsight) is a good thing. In the end, while not exactly the overly succeeding path its predecessor, Chaves does make the most of this project, with The Nun II generating enough thrills, chills, and spooky moments to make fans of the series entertained with the latest outing of religious warfare against the demon nun’s conquest of death and power.
Like the 2018 film, The Nun II’s presentation is perhaps the best attribute that the project has in its arsenal, with the sequel projecting the same type of visual energy and background nuances as to its predecessor. While the first film had a terrific setting of an old Romanian monastery that was secluded and desolate, this movie still manages to keep up that on-going trend of having another derelict and ruined primary set piece (a French boarding school) that’s boast plenty of mystery and creepiness for the characters (and villain) to run around in. In addition, the movie still continues that atmospheric nature of cinematic integrity of that of the first Nun movie, with the film showcasing and displaying that layered attention of details in a gothic-like horror period piece. This, of course, makes the feature’s “behind the scenes” key players, including Alexis McKenzie Main (art direction), Stephanie Cressend (production design), Emmanuel Delis (set decorations), and Agnes Bezier, palpable in their efforts in bringing the film’s movie world to life that looks quite appealing and appropriate for the project’s time / setting. Perhaps the best of this grouping is found within the cinematography work by Tristan Nyby, who delivers some great horror and atmospheric impulses through the usage of shadowing, lightning, and dynamic camera angle positionings. It definitely helps bolster those “cinematic” moments in the feature and (again) creates that atmosphere that made the first Nun picture entertaining. Also, while sound design can be subjective, I do have to say that the usage of the sound editing / mix was pretty good in the movie and helps incorporate those horror-like flourishes of various sound effects (i.e scratch, groaning, and other guttural sounds). Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Marco Beltrami, is pretty good and definitely helps build upon the movie’s thrills and bombastic moments of horror delights. It’s haunting when it needs to be and soft when dialogue driven moments. All in all, a good job from Beltrami. Although, in comparing the two Nun movies, I felt that Abel Korzeniowski did a slightly better job, especially in a few key areas where the cinematography presentation is heightened and delivers some chilling moments.
Unfortunately, The Nun II does share some of the same pitfalls and criticisms that its predecessor had, with the sequel not being the most riveting horror feature as intended. How so? Well, for starters, the feature does follow a formulaic path that reaches a foreseeable conclusion. The movie’s script, which was penned by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, and Akela Cooper, does make for a spooky storyline that was similar to the first feature and delivers on that promise for another bout of good vs. evil, yet the whole endeavor seems a bit “by the book”, for the framing of the story feeling too basic and standard for a horror flick. Thus, the repetition of it all quickly sinks in and generates that predictable notion of narrative progression, with viewers (myself included) could see coming and knowing the ultimate outcome of this demonic encounter. This somewhat didn’t bother me as much as I kind of figured that the first Nun movie shared a similar problem and I knew that this sequel wouldn’t be “radically” different from that one. Plus, horror movies (in general) don’t have the most gripping and thought out written narrative as something I would say a though-provoking drama piece. Thus, it comes with the territory of a horror movie, so (again) I didn’t put a large emphasis on my criticism towards this movie. That being said, it might to others and I would’ve liked to seeing a bit more “substance” in the script handling.
Another problem that I had with this movie, which is something more recent of horror movies nowadays, is the multitude of “jump scares” and how they are utilized in the movie. This scary tactic of this notion has indeed become a common practice in modern horror moviemaking and can be effective in a handful of scenes to make for a sudden jolt of fright for its characters and us (the viewers). In the case of The Nun II, this tactic feels overused too many times and almost oversaturates most of the times it’s been used. Yes, there are few parts where it does with work with great effect, but (again) the usage of too much “jump scares” diminished the overall impact.
For Chaves’s part, I felt that The Nun II could’ve had a bit more finesse in its overall execution of its story and the characters that populate it. Like a lot of the previous off-shoots in the Conjuring series, these projects can be viewed as “subpar” presentation (to a certain degree), with the flagship motion pictures of Warrens (Ed and Lorraine) detective work within the paranormal findings and spiritual possession being the best of what this franchise has to offer. The Nun spinoffs fit into the subpar category a few times, with both movies being good, but could’ve been better if the movie took a bit more risks and had more of a compelling narrative to follow. As mentioned, I do give credit to Chaves for his efforts and certainly does make The Nun II his project in the cinematic universe, which I why I feel that he could’ve done a lot more with this movie, learning from the mistakes and pitfalls that director Corin Hardy and delivering some more profound. As it is, Chaves makes his sequel feel, more or less, the same as the previous installment, which can be viewed as both a good and bad thing…..depending on the viewer. For its criticism, the movie doesn’t feel challenged enough and sits comfortably in a somewhat “holding pattern” of scares and thrills.
The cast in The Nun II is pretty good within the realm of horror movies, with most of the acting talent involved given what they can in their character parameters as well as within the film genre. Of course, this means that some are a little bit “broad” in their undertaking and are a bit of “cog in the wheel” to help further the narrative plot or bounce off certain ideas. So, it kind of goes with the territory of horror flicks. Leading the charge in the movie is actress Taissa Farmiga, who returns to the project to play Sister Irene from the first installment. Known for her roles in Anna, The Final Girls, and The Glided Age, Farmiga, who acted as the main character of the first installment, makes for a somewhat “constant” in these two spin-off endeavors in the Conjuring franchise. For this reason, I think that Farmiga makes for a competent character that is easy to root in her journey against Valak’s hauntings and seizes the day from evil. There isn’t a whole lot of what I would call “character growth” in this installment (beyond a few snippets here and there) as a more “seasoned” sister of the Catholic Faith, but Farmiga is up to the task and has enough screen presence to make her time on this feature steadfast and entertaining as a female lead.
Behind her, actor Jonas Bloquet (3 Days to Kill and Elle) returns to play his character of Maurice from the previous film. Like before, Bloquet has a enough charm and likeable personality to make his portrayal of Maurice endearing and seeing the character get caught up in tragedy makes for some compelling narrative plot making for the feature. Again, it’s nothing new or original, but still perfect fits fine in these features. And, of course, there is no denying the fact that the movie makes for great visual presentation thanks to the film’s main lead antagonist, with actress Bonnie Aaron (Mulholland Drive and Jakob’s Wife) coming back to reprise her role as the demon Nun (aka Valak). Like before, there isn’t any type of character dialogue or growth to the role, but there is plenty of unnatural evil with the Nun and makes for such a terrific bad guy to play around with. Just the presence of the character in flickering imagery or small snippets makes for such wonderful (and haunting) villain. Plus, Aaron makes the character (physically) come alive and is solid within her portrayal of Valak.
Of the new characters, I would say that young actress Katelyn Rose Downey (The Princess and Clean Sweep) does the best job in the movie as Sophie, a young and curious girl at the boarding school, who becomes entangled in Valak’s quest for power. Downey, while hasn’t been in much, still manages to make the most of her time on this project and gets a lot of screen time to make her screen time memorable. Although, the character of Sophie is your stereotypical “child” character in a horror movie that usually gets a lot of time due to the fact she gets in trouble. Behind her, actress Anna Popplewell (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Reign) as Kate, Sophie’s mother and teacher at the French boarding school. Personally, I was quite surprised to see Popplewell in the film as I haven’t seeing much of her of late (she’ll always will be Queen Susan from the Narnia movies). As for her character, Kate is okay and I really don’t have any complaints. She acts as the concerned mother figure as well as somewhat “love interest” for Maurice, but that’s only vague presented in passing. Popplewell’s acting is also good, so (again) nothing to complain about. Thus, she sort of makes for a sort of “even keel” supporting character. Who actually fares the worst is actress Storm Reid (A Wrinkle in Time and Euphoria), who plays the character of Sister Debra, a recent novice Catholic nun who joins Irene on her journey to investigate Valak’s sudden reemergence. Why is she the worst? Well, to put it frankly, there isn’t much to the character as Debra is flat and boring and mostly there for Irene to bounce off ideas and other narrative concepts to progress the story further. As for Reid’s performance…..it’s okay. It’s nothing grand or invigorating….it’s just there, which is kind of disappointing. I would’ve rather liked to see actor Demian Bichir to reprise his role of Father Burke. In the end, Reid’s Debra just comes away as forgettable sidekick character and nothing more.
The rest of the cast, including actress Suzanne Bertish (Magic Mike’s Last Dance and Benediction) as Madame Laurent, actor Pascal Aubert (District 13: Ultimatum and Chronicles of the Son) as Father Noiret, actor Peter Hudson (Jackie and The Last Duel) as Father Ridley, actor David Horovitch (The Young Victoria and Mr. Turner) as Cardinal Conroy, actress Leontine d’Onicieu (Two Tickets to Greece and Balthazar) as Simone, actress Anouk Darwin-Homewood (Le Dulge) as Celeste, actor Maxime Elias-Menet (A Good Doctor and Arthur, malediction) as Jacques, and actress Kate Colebrook (Emily in Paris and Call My Agent!) as Irene’s mother, makes up the minor supporting characters in the film. As is customary for players in the grouping, the acting talent involve is fine, despite their limited screen time in the feature. To me….no harm, no foul as all is good in their capacity.
Valak, the defiler, the profane, the marquis of snakes, has returned and seeking a new coveted power, which drags Sister Irene back into the fight against the feared demon and save her friend (Maurice) from damnation in the movie The Nun II. Director Michael Chaves’s latest film takes what previous established in the first picture and expands upon it within the same type of bravado and energy with a tale of scares of horror and religious motifs of light and darkness. While the movie is bound by familiar tropes and cliches of the genre (in both mechanics and writing word), the film manages to make for a good horror romp, especially with Chaves’s direction, a good visual presentation, great atmospheric nuances, and several confident performances (Farmiga, Bloquet, and Aaron). Personally, I liked this movie. There were some moments that were a bit silly and held the feature back, yet improved in a few areas where the first feature lacked. As mentioned above, I do like the character of Aaron’s Valak, so it was still great to see such an evil antagonist stalking the corridor halls once again. So, I would say that the movie is about on the same level as the 2018 film, which be viewed as both a good and bad thing. For me, it’s former as it keeps up the atmospheric nature that made last movie entertaining and kept me invested in the presentation from start to finish. I didn’t expect something completely different or creatively spellbinding from the previous installment, so my expectations were normal, and I took the film for what it was….at face value. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is solid “recommended”, especially for fans of the Conjuring series as well as horror fans out there. The ending of the film leaves a possible open for another installment (The Nun III), which I would love to see, but I would like to see it come with a strong narrative plot or rather a reason for threequel rather than running the character into the ground. Still, regardless of if one materializes or not, The Nun II, while having its own flaws and strengths, is another solid entry in this off-shoot tale of good and evil within a franchise that is littered with supernatural beings, terrifying specters, and creepy objects that call upon demons and other spirits to our world.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: September 9th, 2023
Reviewed On: October 31st, 2023
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