For many, the trauma of a religious upbringing is more frightening than any horror movie. The attempt to shake the shackles that bind one to their experience in organized religion can take years of processing through extensive therapy. Such subject matter would make for an interesting, fresh take on a tired subgenre. Unfortunately, the plethora of horror films released about possession and The Catholic Church lazily tie themselves to the simple notion that The Devil is scary and The Church is not.
Such is the case in THE NUN II, more aptly titled “THE NONE II,” as the title character barely makes an appearance. The latest installment within The Conjuring Universe is further proof that the franchise is circling the drain faster than an unruly altar boy can sneak rips from the bottle of sacred wine behind the back of an austere priest. The film is an unfortunate and unnecessary venture into a subplot from THE CONJURING 2. The character of The Nun and the demon Valak elicited a response from viewers; the studio smelled money, and she became a B-list horror icon overnight. However, is this iconic status earned? Or are we being forced to place her with the likes of such recent additions to the horror icon pantheon as Art and Clown and Annabelle the Doll simply because the studio head powers that be are telling us to?
As for the film, it’s standard cookie-cutter Conjuring Universe faire and a genuine testament to the fact that “production value” doesn’t necessarily bring actual value. Its glossy high budget masks the continuous use of unearned jump scares and lazy fright tactics. The setup for a scare has become so routine that the bulk of this cumbersome film is a series of variations on the same sequence over and over. After a point, it becomes a “Where’s Waldo” game of searching in shadows and negative space to see where the demon-in-a-habit will appear next. Frustratingly, the film’s most grand and effective reveal was used as the trailer. This impressive sequence would have packed a much bigger punch had it not already been spoiled before I’d even seen the movie. Such is the case with modern mainstream horror trailers: films often have so little to offer they feel the need to advertise their best moments in advance.
Performances are fine. Taissa Farmiga (AMERICAN HORROR STORY) returns as Sister Irene. She’s a terrific actor who, for the second film in a row, is given very little material to work with. The question isn’t whether she can carry a movie, as the truth is the character can’t. She does a terrific job with what little she’s given and can’t be held to blame. Storm Reid’s (EUPHORIA) Sister Debra feels like a forced tagalong throughout, never sticking the landing in her search for faith. The movie seems to forget about her, as do viewers. Returning to the series as Maurice, Jonas Bloquet (ELLE) perhaps gives the film’s best performance. A lot is asked of him, and he stands out as the movie’s MVP. Of course, the fabulous Bonnie Aarons as The Nun does what she came here to do: stand in shadow and grin eerily. Despite not doing much, she does it well. (Insert disgusted sidebar about Warner Brother’s not paying her for using her likeness in merchandise, etc.).
It would seem the attempt here was to create a sense of dread throughout the film, making audiences feel as though The Nun is everywhere. The attempt fails. We came here to see a demon in a nun costume wreak havoc. Unfortunately, uninteresting side characters and attempts at conflict aside from what we came to see are of little interest and, frankly, clunky, dead weight to the film’s pacing. THE NUN II will be remembered as little more than a “monster of the week” filler episode in the faltering series.
Director Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It) is now the record-holder for the most Conjuring Universe films, but that might not be a title worth being proud of. None of these three movies worked. They can be counted among the worst in the franchise.
If The Conjuring Universe intends to move forward (and according to a mid-credits scene, it does…), it would do well to take a note from the tepidly-received ANNABELLE COMES HOME. The over-the-top film felt like walking through a funhouse. This ability to take itself less seriously allowed it to stand out amongst the other films. Rather than a self-righteous melodrama that misses the opportunity to talk about faith and the church’s corruption, ANNABELLE COMES HOME was wacky, campy fun. At this point, that’s all The Conjuring Universe has left to offer.