Movies · Reviews

‘The Nun II’ Stands Out in a Crowded ‘Conjuring’ Universe

Sometimes you’re in the mood for a nun fight.
The Nun II
By  · Published on September 9th, 2023

Remember the disastrous attempt by Universal to establish a new “Dark Universe” bringing the studio’s heavy hitters — Dracula, the Mummy, etc — into a new shared film world? It sputtered out and died fairly quickly in part because Universal made the same mistake as DC in putting the franchise cart before the individual film horses. James Wan took the opposite approach with what’s now referred to as “The Conjuring Universe,” and it now stands as the highest grossing horror franchise ever. The latest entry arrives as one of the most satisfying yet as The Nun II delivers fun scares, memorable setpieces, and a nun on nun brawl to end them all.

It’s been a few years since Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) faced the demon Varek and lived to tell the tale, but instead of riding the fame of her achievement she’s settled into a quiet existence at a small French convent. Her peace ends when news of a series of slayings across Europe comes knocking at her door in the form of a bishop asking her to saddle up once again for a fight against evil. Priests and nuns are being hung, immolated, and worse, and Sister Irene’s search for answers leads her to a rural boarding school where two old “friends” await — Maurice (Jonas Bloquet) the handyman who saved her life during the first encounter, and Varek, the demon who takes the form of a monstrous nun (Bonnie Aarons) to taunt the faithful.

The Nun II is a return to form for the franchise that ups the ante on its predecessor in every way. Characters both good and evil are memorable, the lore is plentiful, and the scares find new life through some entertaining setpieces that move well beyond spooky jumpscares. It does take its time getting to the truly good stuff as the first half feels a bit too generic, but the film clicks into place once Varek turns up the heat.

This is director Michael Chaves‘ third time at bat in the Conjuring Universe, and it’s far and away his best effort yet. Hell, it’s arguably his first good film as both The Curse of La Llorona (2019) and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) are fairly dull affairs that fail to find real thrills. Chaves and cinematographer Tristan Nyby both step up their game here and find a chilly atmosphere and unsettling depths in the various rooms. stairwells, and chapels of the troubled boarding school. Gone is the repetitive feel of The Nun‘s (2018) convent as better lighting and more engaged camerawork ensure viewers are kept on edge throughout the third act.

The Nun II‘s setpieces run the gamut from the expected slow camera pans to reveal spooky happenings to a more stunt-heavy sequence as floors and ceilings collapse while fire rages. One highlight introduces a new supernatural threat sprouting from a devilish goat in a chapel’s stained glass window, and what follows is one of the most visceral scares in the entire franchise as the energy and sound design fuel the terror. The demonic Nun herself has still never been scarier than she was in Wan’s The Conjuring 2 (2016), and Chaves does her no favors here by showcasing her a bit too often, but thankfully Aarons’ performance still carries some chilling weight.

Chaves’ success here is due in no small part to a screenplay (by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing, and Akela Cooper) that keeps things moving storywise while also giving us an engaging ensemble. Sister Irene is joined by a nun-in-training named Debra (Storm Reid) whose crisis of faith dovetails predictably into the conflict at hand, but the character still works in a “buddy nun” kind of way offering some nice and amusing moments between the pair. The boarding school is also home to a young teacher (Anna Popplewell) and her daughter, Sophie (Katelyn Rose Downey), both of whom find a friend in Maurice leading to some sweet and scary beats.

The horror of it all remains the focus of both The Nun II and the Conjuring Universe as a whole, and that explains in part the lack of truly compelling lead characters across the films. The OG Warrens (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) have so far been the only real exceptions, but the younger Farmiga has staked her own claim with her second franchise appearance. While she was a bit more passive in the first film, Sister Irene takes a more aggressive approach here with Farmiga displaying a fine blend of tenacious grit and loving warmth. She kicks ass for the Lord while still retaining a sense of humor and an affection for those around her. (So yes, please give us a crossover film pairing Sister Irene with Russell Crowe’s Vespa-riding Father Gabriel from this year’s The Pope’s Exorcist…)

The film still struggles, though, in the same areas where most religious horror films do — a complete lack of anything resembling consistency with the “rules” of these supernatural threats. The Nun can toss people aside through violent telekinesis, levitate God-fearing priests and burn them alive, but then sometimes… she can’t? The writers are content making it all up as they go along, and that’s fine seeing as religion does the same thing, but it makes for some questionable encounters. At least they also keep the main theme of religious horror films too in the unspoken acknowledgement that your god is a prick who won’t lift a finger to save your ass from monsters of his own creation…

The Nun II is a success when it comes to supernatural horror thrills and the continuation of The Conjuring Universe. Slow start aside, it’s a fun and spooky ride pitting two strong female leads against each other in a fight that allows only one to walk away victorious. Creepy atmosphere, entertaining jumpscares, and compelling characters make for one of the franchise’s best.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.