Thursday, September 07, 2023

The Nun II: Back to The Conjuring Universe

She is not really a nun. It is a demon, who has assumed the shape of a nun, to pervert a symbol of Christianity. Everything Valak does is evil, but there is also good in the “Conjuring Universe.” Eventually, Lorraine Warren will vanquish Valak at the (absolutely terrifying) end of Conjuring 2. Until then, Sister Irene will continue battling the demon in the 1950s-set prequels. Sadly, she will have to face Valak without Father Burke in Michael Chaves’s The Nun II, which opens tomorrow nationwide.

Of course,
The Nun I set up a sequel, most likely involving “Frenchie,” the well-meaning lug who saved Sister Irene during the conclusion of the first film. He has been working his way west from Romania in the four years since, as has a disturbing rash of clerical suicides and desecrations. As the only still-living Romanian convent exorcist, Sister Irene is ordered to investigate, whether she likes it or not, which she doesn’t. However, her new friend, the rebellious Sister Debra, invites herself along, even though Sister Irene gravely warns the inexperienced nun that her tenuous faith will be profoundly tested.

The trail leads to France, where Frenchie now works as a custodian at a religious but not Church-administered school for girls. The bullied Sophie thinks he is charming and her mother Kate, one of the school’s teachers, does not necessarily disagree, but weird things have been happening since he arrived.

Catholic theologians can probably nitpick
The Nun II to death, but it is probably more respectful of the Church and more thoroughly steeped in its teachings than just about any horror movies since William Peter Blatty’s first and third Exorcist films. Frankly, the way it incorporates Catholic rituals in its climax turns out to be a shockingly rewarding payoff. It also teases an “apostolic” connection that makes a lot of sense in the Conjuring Universe.

Taissa Farmiga is terrific as Sister Irene, especially when showing how she draws strength from her faith. Jonas Bloquet, Anna Popplewell, and Katelyn Rose Downey really engage viewers’ sympathies as Frenchie, Sophie, and Kate. One of the things that made the primary
Conjuring series so effective were the family dynamics of both the Warrens and the people they helped. The audience cares about everyone in those films and Nun II really follows their example.

Bonnie Aarons also continues to be extremely creepy as the Nun, especially in an amazing, show-stopping scene, partially teased in the trailer, that will probably be better remembered than anything in the first film. Expect parodies of the newsstand scene, from future
Scary Movie-style spoofs that are ambitious enough to attempt recreating it.

Throughout it all, Tristan Nyby’s eerie cinematography amplifies the unsettling mood. Chaves nicely capitalizes on the 1950s European locations, recreating the vibe of post-war ruin and decay. This is a scary film, because it understands the nature of evil. Compared to other recent horror franchise sequels, it is even better than
Insidious: The Red Door and much more rewarding than Evil Dead Rise. Very highly recommended for fans of demonic horror, The Nun II opens tomorrow (9/8), including the Look Dine-In Cinemas W57 in New York.