Review: Less creepy than sleepy, ‘The Nun II’ proves to be an easy habit to break

A nun holds rosary beads as a sign of faith.
Taissa Farmiga in the movie “The Nun II.”
(Bruno Calvo / Warner Bros. Pictures)
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How about another round of religious trauma, the movie? Five years after “The Conjuring” Universe spinoff “The Nun” glowered its way to huge box office numbers (becoming the highest-grossing entry of the entire franchise), the imposing sister is back in “The Nun II,” this time directed by Michael Chaves, who helmed the latest CU installments “The Curse of La Llorona” (2019) and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021).

In the original “The Nun,” set in 1952, a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) travels to Romania to battle the demon Valak at St. Cartha’s monastery. Director Corin Hardy and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre brought an operatic gothic horror style to the movie, which was light on story but heavy on jump scares. In “The Nun II,” set four years later in 1956, Sister Irene tangles with the demon again, this time at a French boarding school. Chaves and cinematographer Tristan Nyby bring some cool visuals again, but the film is sorely lacking in suspense — it’s an utter snooze.

The problem is that Chaves is way too liberal with his monsters, ghouls and demons, showing us way too much, too soon — a classic horror-filmmaking blunder. The camera lingers on long, leisurely looks over the scary thing or just blatantly shows us which otherwise mundane object will soon become animated by evil forces.


Almost every scene in the movie unfolds in the same way: Some quivering poppet (altar boy, delivery girl, student) goes wandering into a dusty old space (rectory, cellar, chapel) and has the bejesus scared out of them by some crashing thing (wine jug, window, statue) and the spooky face of the creepy nun demon (Bonnie Aarons, we salute you). Lather, rinse, repeat. It’s actually shocking how many times this same scenic formula plays out in “The Nun II,” and never with any spectacular payoff.

A man bleeds from his eyes as a spectral presence looms behind him.
Jonas Bloquet in the movie “The Nun II.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

In following Sister Irene, reluctant exorcist, the bones of an interesting story are there, especially as they dive into her past and the reasons why she’s able to tackle such demonry. The screenplay is by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper, the last who has brought her own uniquely bonkers sensibility to films like “Malignant” and “M3GAN.” But there’s no wacky nunsploitation fun to be found in “The Nun II.”

Farmiga is a wonder to watch, delivering an earnest, guileless performance of Sister Irene that mirrors the performance of her own sister, Vera Farmiga, who plays the similarly psychically gifted Lorraine Warren elsewhere in the series (“The Nun” movies are prequels to “The Conjuring” films). In this sequel, she’s assisted by another, rather skeptical sister, Debra (Storm Reid), who tags along to see a miracle, and gets more than she bargained for.

The Conjuring Universe is most frequently about faith, seeing and vision, both physically and psychically. In the best installments — usually directed by James Wan — the film form and camera mimics the process of human sight,harnessing vision as a way to build terror (e.g. “The Conjuring 2,” the best of them). Chaves either doesn’t have the ability to pull this off, or he doesn’t have the interest in it, which makes the themes of seeing and believing fall flat, even when he’s handed the perfect opportunity to explore those ideas in the script for “The Nun II.”

Instead, “The Nun” movies are less about faith and more about women in relationship to religion: women’s intuition, the iconography of women in Catholicism, the evil that women can visit upon each other on the mortal plane and the spiritual, the inner emotional strength of women and their weaknesses, embodied here in hunky handyman Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), who saved Sister Irene in the first movie, and still carries their experience with him.


But reaching for meaning in “The Nun II” is as fruitful as a wander down a dark and dusty hall. You’ll find things that go bump in the night but not much else underneath the doom and gloom.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

'The Nun II'

Rating: R, for violent content and some terror

Nunning time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Playing: Opens Sept. 8 in wide release