The Nun II Ignores Audience Prayers for an End to the Conjuring Franchise

Once upon a time James Wan decided to make a film about real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). In 2013 The Conjuring universe was born and has thus far netted over two billion dollars from its near exhausting spin offs. The Nun directed by Corin Hardy in 2018 was spun off an image that Ed Warren painted in The Conjuring 2. The flimsy premise became the basis of a period set horror involving a demon called Valak (Bonnie Aarons) who is defeated by a spunky novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and a handyman named Maurice (Jonas Bloquet).

Despite receiving scathing reviews, a sequel was inevitable because Conjuring films rake in audience cash. The quality of the franchise is uneven at best, but profits speak. Sister Irene is living in a convent in 1956 and trying to put the events of Cartha monastery in Romania behind her. Such legendary stories never die, and Sister Irene listens as the other nuns relate the events that saw a demon escaping hell because of WWII bombings; most blasphemously the demon appeared as a Nun. Sister Irene begins a friendship with a new novitiate, Sister Debra (Storm Reid) a young woman displaced from her home in Mississippi because of racial violence.

The story doesn’t quite start there. In a small town in France a priest is attacked by Valak and burned alive. There have been cases of clerics and nuns dying in excruciating ways across Europe, and once again Sister Irene with her “second sight” is called in to investigate. Sister Irene knows something is coming as she can feel there is something wrong with her friend, Maurice. Valak was not vanquished by the blood of Christ in the first film and is now seeking a holy artefact to cement its power on Earth.

The Nun II is the kind of film that relies heavily on atmosphere and jump scares. Plot details are contrived and loose. Maurice has made friends with a young Irish girl, Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey) who is bullied by the other students at St Mary’s Boarding School. Maurice also has a crush on Sophie’s mother, Kate (Anna Popplewell) a teacher at the school who is forever grateful to have a home after the turbulence of the war.

Thus, we have the standard child in peril trope. We also get introduced to the idea of the mother as a central figure in a daughter’s life; whether that be through flashbacks of Irene’s mother, Debra’s statement that her murdered mother was “her church.” There are some aspects to Akela Copper’s script that have some insightful commentary on what mothers mean, and how much a mother or a daughter might sacrifice. However, that’s not what the audience is paying for. What the audience gets is a relentless shapeshifting demon that is sadistic and kills by choosing avatars that will elicit the most sympathy or terror from the victim.

Making sense of the machinations of the demon is something that the film doesn’t want to explain. In a visit to the Vatican Library to research a particular symbol (that of Saint Lucy) Sister Irene is told by the librarian the demon really could do anything – who knows what it is or what might enact. That script loophole out of the way, director Michael Chaves decides to just concentrate on the chills, and logic be damned.

Storm Reid as Sister Debra is there as an uninvited tag along with Sister Irene mostly to ensure that Irene has several issues to worry about at once and to add a bit of “girl power” to the rote proceedings. While the film does manage some chills, it is simultaneously predictable and nonsensical.

Taissa Farmiga has become a quiet scream queen in her own manner, not only through her role as Sister Irene but also her involvement in Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story anthologies. Farmiga is quite good at delicate terror mixed with religious purpose as Irene, but there isn’t much scope for her as an actor. We do feel sympathy for the gentle Maurice, afflicted by a terrible curse, and Katelyn Rose Downey’s Sophie is a child who is easy to care about.

The Nun II follows in the tradition of silly supernatural popcorn movies. It is better than the first and has some wonderfully crafted set pieces – including a magazine stand sequence that uses Dalí’s ‘paranoic critical’ method to stunning effect. However, the absurdity of the shenanigans far outweighs any true feeling of dread. By the time The Nun II is over it’s probable that you are praying for the franchise to just give up the ghost. A prayer that will be ignored as it segues yet again into another sequel.

Director: Michael Chaves

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid

Writers: Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, Akela Cooper, (based on a story by Akela Cooper, and characters created by James Wan And Gary Dauberman)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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