‘The Nun II’: Demons gonna demon

Taissa Farmiga in “The Nun II”. MUST CREDIT: Bruno Falvo/Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

Taissa Farmiga in “The Nun II”. MUST CREDIT: Bruno Falvo/Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

Published Sep 22, 2023


By Michael O’Sullivan

About halfway through “The Nun II”, the effectively creepy but creatively bankrupt sequel to the “Conjuring” universe spin-off about a demon, Valak, who takes the form of a habit-clad religious woman with viperlike teeth and glowing eyes – a chilling enough vision on its own to disturb the sleep of anyone who went to parochial school – the film’s heroine, a young nun named Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), pays a visit to the Vatican archives.

As in the original 2018 film, in which Irene was recruited by the Catholic Church to investigate the suspicious death in 1952 of a nun in a medieval castle-turned convent, Irene here performs the role of a kind of supernatural sleuth.

She’s a detective of demons, whose extrasensory powers lend themselves to the pursuit of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), also known as “the Defiler, the Profane, the Marquis of Snakes”, who has somehow escaped from the vault of hell to which she consigned it at the end of the previous film, leaving a trail of dead bodies, including a priest (Pascal Aubert) charred to a crisp, in its wake.

But you can’t keep a good demon down, as anyone who has ever seen any horror film, ever, will tell you.

Valak, the Vatican archivist (Peter Hudson) informs Irene, appears to be making its way across Europe and is now in France, where the malevolent entity seems to be in pursuit of a powerful (and grisly) religious relic.

Why? “It’s a demon,” the priest tells her, in a somewhat unsatisfying variant of “Demons gonna demon”.

Valak is unpredictable, in other words, and can take many forms, feeding on our deepest fears like they were Pringles potato chips.

That predictable unpredictability is a good thing as far as horror movies go. Call it “Demon movies gonna demon movie”. And so “The Nun II” does its thing, efficiently and with lots of jump scares, as Irene and the Defiler go toe to toe.

Assisting Irene in her mission is a kind of Watson to her Holmes: Sister Debra (Storm Reid), a Mississippi-born nun, for some reason in France, who makes up for shaky faith with the kind of real-world pragmatism that Irene lacks.

Taissa Farmiga in “The Nun II.” MUST CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/New Line Cinema

Together in their pursuit, they soon cross paths with Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), the handsome, flirty Frenchman who saved Irene’s life in “The Nun”. (In that Romanian-set film, which took place four years before the action of this one, he was known as “Frenchie”. Here, that would be redundant.) Other supporting characters include Kate (Anna Popplewell), a teacher at the French girls’ school where much of the film is set, and Kate’s daughter, Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey).

The UK actors – Popplewell is English, Downey is Irish – are attractive additions to the cast, mostly for Maurice to interact with, romantically and paternally, respectively.

But human relations are not what you come looking for in a movie set in the “Conjuring” universe, where Valak is the main antagonist, and which has included three movies about a deliciously malignant devil-doll named Annabelle, including the cheesily satisfying “Annabelle Comes Home”.

You come for the devil in a black habit. You come for its goat-horned sidekick, the possession of human souls, accompanied by enough cracking-joint sounds to give a chiropractor nightmares.

Is it cliché? Yes. Does it defy logic and continuity? Yes, and yes. Why do some religious relics, for example, the blood of Jesus. in “The Nun”, act like green Kryptonite on Valak, and others, such as the relic Valak is seeking in “The Nun II”, confer power?

And exactly when does Maurice, who has appeared in earlier “Conjuring” and “Annabelle” films, meet the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, Taissa’s sister), the protagonists of the “Conjuring” films?

It’s all so confusing. But reason is an obstacle to appreciating “The Nun II”. What you need, like Irene and Debra, is faith, in this case, in the power of pure nonsense.

∎ “The Nun II” is showing at cinemas nationwide.