It’s generally supposed that if a midlist horror does well enough to merit a sequel, then Part II should show up a year or two after the original – a rare recent exception was the second Orphan. The Nun, a spinoff from the Conjuring series, came out in 2018 but circumstances intervened and – like The Meg 2 – The Nun II arrives after memories of the okay first film have probably faded, to the extent that audiences are likely to be scratching their heads for a while to catch up on what happened last time …why nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) has history with the demon who dresses as a scary nun (Bonnie Aarons) and what’s up with fanciable French handyman Maurice (Jonas Bloquet). It’s all explained in the script, but the catch-up makes this a slow-starter.
In 1956, Irene and sidekick Debra (Storm Reid) are sent by the Catholic church to investigate a wave of demonic deaths of clergy across Europe – the dead priests and nuns are all descendants of Saint Lucy, whose family seem so keen on going into celibate orders it’s a wonder there are further generations to be murdered. Currently, Maurice – who got semi-possessed by the nun last time round – is working at a boarding school which used to be a convent, and twinkling merrily at cute Irish teacher Kate (Anna Popplewell, from the Narnia movies) and her sweet daughter Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey) while school-type plots involving a mean girl posse (led by Leontine d’Oncieu) and the reclusive headmistress (Suzanne Bertish) grind on until the nuns show up for a showdown.
Michael Chaves, director of The Curse of La Llorona and The Conjuring The Devil Made Me Do It, seems to be settling in as the default Conjuring director and stages one splendid sequence as riffling French 1950s magazines on a big newsstand form the shape of the Nun – then gets back to more usual running, ranting, levitating, jumpscare, hiss-the-nun stuff. Like so many recent horror films, this goes for a dingy, drab look which damps down the scares and generally has a downer feel. This is now so widespread an issue that even truly terrible films with a wider colour palette can earn a few points just by not looking like a wet Wednesday afternoon. This has one of the sillier mcguffins in religious horror – what looks like a big powder compact containing the ripped-out eyes of Saint Lucy (which we never see), patron saint of the blind, which will juice the demon who looks like a nun up with all the angel powers lost in the Fall.
Lapsed Catholic horror fans again get their money’s worth from this stuff – though anyone who saw Pray for the Devil earlier in the year will know that nuns even now aren’t allowed to perform the exorcism rituals Sister Irene is entrusted with by church higher-ups in an imaginary 1950s. Perhaps more damaging is that the high concept of this ox-bow lake-type spinoff cycle – a scary nun! – is compromised by the reveal that the baddie isn’t a nun and in this instance spends more time looking like a French magazine advert model than doing her signature loom-at-the-camera-and-go-ahhhh business. Screenplay by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper, based on characters created by James Wan and Gary Dauberman.