“The Nun 2 is a more assaultive, in-your-face horror film than its 2018 predecessor, but it still falls short of the Conjuring franchise's best, James Wan-directed installments.”
- An arresting prologue
- A memorable, intense midpoint chapel sequence
- Taissa Farmiga's likable lead performance
- The film's best sequences have a tendency to end in a lackluster fashion
- An uneven, exposition-heavy screenplay
- Numerous flat supporting characters
The Nun 2 begins, as it should, in the darkened halls and stairwells of a church. The year is 1956. The country is France. The religion is definitively Catholic. These details all come quickly, with the film spending its opening moments with a young altar boy who has unknowingly caught the attention of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), the demon that has been masquerading as a malevolent nun onscreen ever since 2017’s The Conjuring 2. Before long, Valak is actively terrorizing its latest target — resetting his stool when he’s not looking and rolling his soccer ball back at him from the other end of a long, seemingly endless corridor.
In these moments, director Michael Chaves expertly and patiently ratchets up the tension — stretching out the moments of silence between Valak’s attacks until you can barely stand it. By the time the scene-stealing demon has finally shown its unnaturally chalk-white face, The Nun 2 has already reached greater heights than its 2018 predecessor. However, in a misguided attempt to inspire shock and fear, Chaves goes bright and loud — punctuating the film’s otherwise impeccable prologue with a fiery exclamation mark that doesn’t leave one nearly as shaken as all the moments of quiet, pungent dread that precede it.
The Nun 2’s opening establishes a cycle of diminishing returns that the film itself refuses to deviate from. There are flashes of near-silent, bone-chilling horror brilliance scattered throughout the latest installment of Warner Bros.’ ever-growing Conjuring Universe, but they’re almost always followed by images of blunt-force violence that do nothing but dull the impact of its sharpest moments.
Unlike The Nun, which is set almost exclusively in early 1950s Romania, the new sequel spends most of its time in France. Picking up four years after the events of its parent film, The Nun 2 finds Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) living a quiet life at a countryside convent where she has become fast friends with Sister Debra (Storm Reid), whose rebellious streak and struggles with her own Catholic faith have made her a nuisance for the rest of their Holy Sisters. Irene’s peaceful existence is disrupted, however, when she’s ordered to investigate a trail of religious murders spanning a not-insignificant portion of Western Europe.
Irene’s mission leads her and Debra to a French boarding school where her former friend and savior, Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), has started a new job as a handyman. Unbeknownst to them, Maurice didn’t make it out of his and Irene’s previous encounter with Valak as free as they’d thought. Instead, he has become a vessel for the demon, who uses him to carry out a series of murders and frightful encounters as part of a search for a Christian relic that could make Valak even more powerful. Structurally, The Nun 2 spends most of its runtime planting the seeds for Sister Irene and Maurice’s eventual reunion — bouncing between sequences of pure horror involving the latter character and the moments of research carried out by Farmiga’s clear-eyed heroine, who also experiences a few ominous visions along the way.
The film’s script, penned by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, and M3GAN writer Akela Cooper, struggles to strike an even balance between its two halves. Its pacing sags throughout its second act, which has a habit of becoming so focused on explaining its eponymous villain’s actions and expanding the religious lore surrounding both Valak and Sister Irene that it fails to remain as consistently scary or atmospheric as one would like. While the purpose of Irene’s supernatural visions becomes increasingly clear over the course of the film’s runtime, too, only one of them packs much of a punch. The rest feel largely superfluous, especially given how long it takes for the character to piece together the clues that will lead her back to Maurice and, by extension, his demonic possessor.
Michael Chaves, whose previous credits include The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, brings a punchier touch to The Nun 2 than his predecessor, Corin Hardy. However, he fails to replicate the power that James Wan created with Valak’s debut in The Conjuring 2. Not only does Chaves’ camera wander, pan, and travel less than Wan’s, but it also lacks the maximalist, full-throated energy that makes the first two Conjuring movies so impactful. In general, The Nun 2 is missing the kinetic energy of The Conjuring 2, which renders Valak more terrifying than either of the character’s solo movies.
To his credit, Chaves does make the most of The Nun 2’s quieter set pieces, including one late-night journey through a destroyed chapel that is masterfully paced, shot, and edited. When the film’s script allows it to abandon some of its own restrictive logic and go absurdly big in its third act, Chaves also frames Irene’s final battle with Valak in a way that emphasizes its scale without sacrificing the spatial awareness needed to keep up with it. Farmiga, meanwhile, again manages to imbue Sister Irene, a potentially one-note character, with enough humanity to effectively ground The Nun 2’s outsized plot.
The film’s other performers don’t get the same chance. Even Reid’s Sister Debra is set up to be a more complex character than she actually proves to be. The flatness of The Nun 2’s supporting heroes is, unfortunately, emblematic of many of the film’s problems. Ultimately, it’s a horror movie that knows how to light a fuse and let it burn, but it struggles to deliver pay-offs that are as satisfying, shocking, or scary as they should be. As far as horror movies go, it’s the big-screen equivalent of a box of 99-cent party snaps. It’s loud and explosive, sure, but the scorch marks it leaves behind are negligible at best.
The Nun 2 is now playing in theaters. For more details about the movie’s conclusion, please read The Nun 2‘s ending, explained.
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