Evil entities have an uncanny ability to draw audiences, and their resurrection is inevitable when box office numbers speak for themselves.
One might have assumed that the titular character met its demise in 2018’s “The Nun,” after consuming the blood of Christ and all. However, given the film’s immense success within the Conjuring Universe, it was practically a foregone conclusion that it would make a return in a sequel adorned with a Roman numeral. Enter “The Nun II,” offering a familiar recipe with an added dose of spine-tingling moments meticulously crafted by the diabolical sound designers who seem to revel in pushing the volume to the extremes, as if they were conducting sonic experiments on unsuspecting subjects.
Guided by director Michael Chavis, a seasoned figure within the Conjuring franchise, having previously helmed entries like “The Curse of La Llorona” and “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (a title that seemed ripe for parody), this latest installment, set in 1956, once again showcases Taissa Farmiga in the role of Sister Irene. She is, without a doubt, one of the most unassuming nuns, but when the chips are down, her ability to confront demons is second to none. Additionally, Jonas Bloquet returns as Maurice, affectionately known as “Frenchie,” the valiant saviour from the first film.
Now, Sister Irene resides incognito in an Italian nunnery, where another nun helpfully narrates the events of the previous film to newcomers, oblivious to the fact that the very demon slayer she’s describing is within earshot. However, just when Sister Irene believes she’s left her demon-hunting days behind, the Catholic Church pulls her back into the fray. She’s tasked with performing another miracle and investigating a series of enigmatic deaths hauntingly reminiscent of past occurrences. Sadly, this time she won’t have the company of Father Burke, portrayed by Demian Bichir in the previous film. The official explanation is that he succumbed to cholera, which in the world of screenwriting translates to “contract negotiation didn’t pan out.”
Accompanied by a younger fellow nun, Sister Debra (played by Storm Reid of “Euphoria”), Sister Irene embarks on a journey to France. There, she has a series of chilling encounters with her former adversary, the demon nun Valak (the formidable Bonnie Aarons), who bears an unsettling resemblance to Marilyn Manson. In one memorable meeting, Valak creatively rearranges the pages of a newsstand magazine display to unveil an image of herself, leaving you to ponder that if she could just stop possessing people, she might have a career in contemporary art installations.
As the investigation unfolds, Sister Irene’s path leads her to a girls’ boarding school nestled in the heart of France. Here, she discovers that Maurice has taken up a new role as a custodian, finding solace in befriending a bullied student, portrayed by Katelyn Rose Downey, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one of the teachers, played by Anna Popplewell. However, a sinister twist emerges when it becomes apparent that Valak had seized the opportunity to possess Maurice during their previous encounter. Now, Maurice experiences unsettling episodes of catatonia and what appears to be a peculiar form of dance. Predictably, all hell breaks loose, with Maurice succumbing to full demonic possession, thrusting Sister Irene back into the daunting role of exorcist, tasked with confronting Valak once more.
The filmmaker skillfully constructs an eerie atmosphere, thanks in part to the evocative European settings and Tristan Nyby’s moody cinematography. The sequences of intense chaos, many involving terrified young girls, are executed with disturbing zeal. One might argue that there’s an excess of screaming – after encountering the demon multiple times, it loses some of its shock value – but this remains a minor quibble.
Taissa Farmiga, whose older sister Vera is known for her role as Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring films (making this franchise a family legacy), delivers a pitch-perfect performance. She imbues Sister Irene with a delicate vulnerability, making her eventual triumph over the malevolent demon all the more impactful. Jonas Bloquet, on the other hand, exudes a captivating and subtly charismatic presence. It’s regrettable that his character is compelled to don contact lenses and contort his face when fully possessed during the film’s extended climactic sequence.