The Nun II (2023)

SEPTEMBER 15, 2023


I assume it’s only because The Nun was released in September (i.e. the start of the spooky season) that it became the highest grossing entry of the Conjuring universe, as nearly all the of others were released in the summer and didn’t get that same “well it’ll give us a few scares, so let’s go” boost. Because I don’t think anyone would dare to claim it was their favorite entry – it was a pretty by-the-numbers jump scare machine with the flimisiest connection yet to the main series (even the otherwise cast off Curse of La Llorona had one of the supporting characters make an appearance). But it’s the big numbers on boxofficemojo, not user reviews, that decide whether or not a film gets a sequel, so here we are five years later with The Nun II, which brings back two of the previous film’s heroes along with (duh) the titular Nun.

But it does so awkwardly, and starts the movie off on a weird note that takes a while for it to recover from. It opens on a priest being immolated by the nun in a church in France, and then reintroduces Maurice, aka “Frenchie”, the kindly villager who has relocated to France himself, now working at a boarding school. If you don’t recall, the end of the first film had him being possessed by Valak the demon (the same spirit inside the nun, I think? I can’t really follow this gibberish across several years/installments), with a credits scene showing he was still possessed decades later as the Warrens attempted to exorcise him prior to the events of the first Conjuring. Since this movie takes place in between those two events, we know he’s possessed, but that is hidden from us until we also catch up with Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who is now living at a convent in Italy and trying to live a peaceful, demonic nun free life (aren't we all?). Alas, we learn that the priest we saw immolated at the beginning was merely the newest in a string of mysterious deaths of clergy folk, and the cardinal comes calling to tell Irene they need her help because they are pretty sure it’s the same demon she fought before.

And here’s where it gets confusing: after explaining away Demian Bichir’s character as having died of cholera in between movies, the cardinal tells Irene she’s the only other person alive who has dealt with this demon. But… she isn’t? And we already got reacquainted with the other one who did? It’s very awkward; it really felt like we should have met up with Irene first and then, when she gets the assignment, have her say something like “Well, there is someone else who faced Valak…” and THEN catch up with Frenchie/Maurice (he goes by the latter). But the way it plays out, it almost seems to be suggesting he’s a different character entirely for a while until his first “the demon takes over” moment. Which is another awkward thing about the movie, as we all know he’s possessed but he doesn’t become a full menace until the third act, so until then he just has these weird moments that affect no one else, so that he can keep being the handsome hero for the character scenes.

It also takes a while for Irene to get to the school, as she’s on a fact finding mission with another nun played by Storm Reid. Honestly I would probably prefer a movie about the two of them making their way through a spooky version of National Treasure or Indiana Jones (there’s a scene where they literally need to have a beam of light point the way to a relic!) than go through the usual jump scare motions with the girls at the school, but that wouldn’t sell tickets so I get it. At least once she finally gets there and reunites with Frenchie the movie kicks into higher gear, and the third act is actually pretty exciting as all hell is breaking loose. There’s a random goat devil beast running around, plus the possessed Frenchie and the Nun, all of them causing havoc as our heroes constantly run through the halls and smash through windows and what not. Sometimes it seems like a character disappears for too long of a time, such as the obligatory kindly teacher who has a burgeoning romance with Frenchie (poor Irene the nun can’t get any of that, so they just give each other longing looks), but it’s all exciting enough not to matter too much.

That said, I had to dock this section a point for not killing any of the mean girls who torment the teacher’s daughter, a soft spoken type who is also BFFs with Frenchie. Early on they steal a bracelet from her, and later they trap her in a room with the demon (not intentionally, but the intent was still the same – scare the hell out of her!), so along with the film’s R rating it really feels like they’re going to get a justified demise. But no! One of them is stabbed in the shoulder by the goat thing, and that’s it. Why even bother with all this mean girl stuff if there’s no payoff for it? They don’t apologize to her or anything, and the girl’s mom even puts herself in harm’s way to protect the jerks (as does Reid, who alas has nothing of her own to do once they arrive at the school). The R is earned from a trio of onscreen/fairly gnarly kills, but those brief moments are it – it felt very PG13 otherwise. To be fair, the first Conjuring famously got an R for simply being too scary (James Wan intended it to be PG13 but the MPAA wouldn’t budge), but at this point it seems they’re just slapping the R on out of tradition. There’s nothing in here that elevates it above Insidious 5 (PG13) in that department, so if they’re going to keep making this an R rated franchise, they should at least earn it. These films tend to outgross the PG13 Insidious ones, so the R clearly isn't hurting ticket sales. Embrace it!

But even if it was rated PG, I think I’d feel the same way: the formula for this franchise is getting pretty creaky after nine entries (three Conjurings, three Annabelles, two Nuns, and La Llorona). At least the Conjurings (and Annabelle 3, briefly) have the Warren characters to give them a boost, since they are so charming and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are endlessly appealing to watch, but the other films have yet to give us characters that engaging. Taissa’s Irene has a slightly meatier role to play this time, as she finds herself trying to mold Reid’s character into a good nun while also dealing with her spooky past and unresolved longing for Frenchie (who she also may have to kill to stop the demon), but nothing they can give her to say will ever really stop distracting us from the baffling casting choice to have “Lorraine Warren’s sister” take lead on two films when she’s not actually related to her. They even double down on it this time, with a series of flashbacks about Irene’s mother who was sent to a mental institution for babbling about demons and such, with Irene saying she hasn’t seen her since – a perfect opportunity to just say the woman got out of the hospital, met a man, and gave birth to a daughter named Lorraine. But no, they still do nothing with this connection, and it doesn’t help that Taissa looks more like Vera than ever in a few shots.

And too many of the films have the same structure, in that there’s a place where the haunting is and then our protagonist is elsewhere getting back story. Scare scene, exposition dump, scare scene, exposition dump, over and over until they finally all get together in the house/school/whatever for a third act blow out. Sometimes the heroes will have jump scare scenes of their own, with the filmmakers hoping we don’t notice the discrepancy of the supernatural force seemingly being in two places at once. Even the scares seem to be generated from a template, where they see a scary thing and then the scary thing makes a “surprise” second appearance, always after an extended quiet moment where the little girl looks down a hall or into a darkened corner or something. There’s a decent one here where the Nun suddenly turns into a bunch of birds that fly at the hero, but otherwise they might as well have just deep faked these actors’ faces over the ones in previous Conjuverse movies, save a few bucks.

Speaking of the Nun, she's curiously not in the movie all that much. I'd estimate Bonnie Aarons has less than two minutes of screentime in the 110 minute film, which is weird for a sequel in a series named THE NUN. I think we spend more time looking at *images* of her specter (like in that silly magazine article collage from the trailers, and another bit where the little girl thinks she sees her but turns out to be a distinctive pattern on a crumbling wall) than her as an actual presence, and when she does appear she's mostly just standing there. I momentarily wondered if Aarons actually returned at all or if they just deep faked her image over a double for the handful of shots they bothered to include the character, as the role is that minimal and inert. With the house full of teenaged girls (again, some quite mean!) this could have been a slasher of sorts with the Nun wiping them out one by one until Taissa arrived to stop her, but instead she's treated as an afterthought. Very weird.

I dunno. There are worse entries (namely, the first Nun and La Llorona), but the sameyness is also leaving me indifferent even though there are improvements here and there. Like yes, this one’s better, but it’s also pretty similar, so we lose the novelty. With so many stories to mine from the Warren’s basement collection, it seems silly to keep making sequels to the spinoffs, even if they tend to improve on their originals (Annabelle Comes Home remains the best of the entire spinoff collection in my eyes). At least with a different demonic entity and a new cast to meet, the genericness of the scare scenes can be offset by everything else being fresh – what happened to the Crooked Man movie? But instead the end of this one just reminds us that another Conjuring is coming. Maybe Patrick Wilson can direct that one too? At least we can maybe get a new Ghost song out of the deal.

What say you?


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget