Whenever The Conjuring series steps away from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the results have been mixed at best and downright terrible at worst.
The Nun – a spin-off movie from The Conjuring 2 which explored the origins of demon nun Valak – is down there with the worst of the series, alongside Annabelle. We would have included The Curse of La Llorona, but that was so bad, it's now considered not canon. (We joke, of course – but it's definitely non-canon.)
Both Annabelle follow-ups improved on the first movie though, and we can now say The Nun II does the same. It had a low bar to clear, so you might think we're damning it with faint praise, but it'd be a solid pre-Halloween horror outing without comparison to the first movie.
The sequel skips forward four years to 1956, which means it still takes place before The Conjuring if you're keeping track of the timeline. As we knew from the end of The Nun, reports of Valak's demise were greatly exaggerated – and the demon nun is at it again.
In an attention-grabbing cold open, Valak (Bonnie Aarons) burns a priest alive in Tarascon, France, the latest in a line of sins committed against the Church by the demon nun. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is chilling at a convent in Italy, but her peace is about to be interrupted.
Given that she's come face-to-face with Valak before and survived, Irene is asked to travel to France to investigate the latest death, with fledgling nun Sister Debra (Storm Reid) along for the ride.
But when it leads Irene to reunite with Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), now working as a handyman at a boarding school, can Irene perform another miracle to save the day again?
Much like the battle between good and evil in the movie, there appears to be a battle between a genuinely great movie and a poor movie throughout The Nun II. It's not just in the dual storylines that belatedly come together in the finale; it's in the overall tone of the movie too.
You can't avoid the fact that the idea of a demon nun is inherently a bit silly, especially when it's treated with po-faced sincerity. At times, The Nun II happily leans into the pulpy nature of the plot, especially once a demonic goat gets involved, but at others, it seems at pains to tell us that this is all very serious.
The original script for the sequel came from Akela Cooper, who has won legions of horror fans for her work on M3GAN and Malignant, before revisions by Ian Goldberg and Richard Naing. We don't know exactly what was changed, but it likely resulted in this confused tone that prevents the movie becoming truly great.
As with the first movie, the sequel gets bogged down in lore about Valak when, really, everything we needed to know was in The Conjuring 2. When Valak is just letting her demonic flag fly, The Nun II is an entertaining scarefest with creepy demon children, possessed magazines and the aforementioned demon goat.
Director Michael Chaves honed his horror skills on The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, and he's at his most assured here. The set pieces might have predictable jumps, but Chaves is unafraid to let the dread slowly build and makes effective use of light and dark.
The problem isn't really in the scares, familiar though they are; it's that the plot is uninteresting. A lot of time is spent to establish both Irene and Maurice's separate stories, and the end destination is always known. We've known from the first movie that Maurice is possessed by Valak, yet the sequel treats it as a big mystery.
It means that whenever The Nun II isn't trying to creep you out, it's all a bit dull as we wait for Irene and Maurice to catch up with the audience. When they do, the final act is relentless and a sign of how fun a horror movie about a demon nun should be, right down to a relic being wielded like an Infinity Stone.
Frustrations aside, The Nun II is still a significant improvement on the first movie and one of the stronger Conjuring spin-offs. If there is a next time though, then they really need to just let Valak be Valak.
The Nun II is released in cinemas on September 8.
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