The Conjuring Universe is best described as a hit-and-miss affair. Misses like Annabelle Comes Home (2019) and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) were some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in the franchise. And now, adding to the list is The Nun II, a sequel that has Michael Chaves from the aforementioned ill-fated third Conjuring movie taking over from the first movie’s Corin Hardy.
The first movie, which was released five years ago, became the highest-grossing film of the franchise, despite its overall poor critical and audience responses. Personally, I guess I’m in the minority viewing The Nun as a decent gothic horror that captured the sinister mood and darkness. Not so for the sequel as Chaves stumbles more than often here.
The Nun II takes place in 1956 in Tarascon, France and Chaves could have a potential opener: an elaborate scene in the church, which begins with the slow build-up of tension and things that go bump in the night moments before leading to the brutal murder of a priest. The expected jump scares are there and so is the usual scare-tactic formula that defines a Conjuring universe horror movie. But it somehow feels like it’s missing a vital ingredient. And that is a sense of palpable thrills. The scares are rather superficial than genuinely earned.
The story — credited to Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper — is surprisingly dull. I figure that having Cooper, who wrote Malignant and M3GAN would mean a lot for the sequel. But the execution ends up more like a generic slog, clocking at a protracted 110-minute runtime. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), the survivor from the first movie, returns and she has moved on ever since. But it doesn’t take long before the murder of the priest prompts the church to appoint her to lead the investigation.
Together with Sister Debra (Storm Reid), they hop on a train to find out the truth. The investigation itself is nothing more than a perfunctory, connect-the-dots moment, even though the movie does something interesting at one point. It was a backstory, albeit in a brief manner containing the franchise’s lore surrounding the fate of a nun.
The story also diverted its attention from Irene and Debra’s investigation to Maurice a.k.a. Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) working in a boarding school. A quick recap from the first movie: He was previously a saviour who rescued Irene but risked himself being possessed by the demonic nun, Valak (Bonnie Aarons). After he and Irene parted ways, he didn’t realise there was a scar shaped like an inverted cross on the back of his neck.
The sequel’s back-and-forth narrative between the two stories tends to drag every now and then. It doesn’t help either when the story barely generates any kind of worthy character development. Something that at least made me care about Irene or Maurice or anyone in the movie. For instance, Irene has been through a lot since the first movie but the movie could only address her situation in a hasty manner. Her subsequent investigation leads to her reunion with Maurice later in the movie is all pro forma.
The cast is equally a letdown and this leaves the scare. Apart from the lacklustre opening sequence, most of the scares are almost devoid of nuances. Nine movies in since the first Conjuring in 2013, it’s all familiar stuff by now. Perhaps too familiar to the point that The Nun II feels like it was heavily manufactured straight out of the assembly line. In other words, it would do the sequel a huge favour if Chaves doesn’t resort to the same old, overused scares.
It’s not like Chaves’s lack of trying here, which can be seen in the newsstand sequence. It was the single best moment, offering a fresh perspective on how Valak made her appearance within the self-flipping pages of the magazines. Too bad such a scene is only few and far between.