de facto film reviews 1 star

James Wan’s 2013 sensation The Conjuring kicked off a franchise that has not only sustained itself for ten years now, but currently ranks as the highest-grossing horror franchise of all time. Wan’s thrilling flair for spookhouse visuals and knack for storytelling proved highly influential, becoming a modern classic of the genre. The hit sequel The Conjuring 2 introduced audiences to an iconic new figure of terror, the demon Valek (Bonnie Aarons), who takes the form of a nun. The character was so popular and deeply scary, she was given own spinoff film, the 2018 box office smash The Nun, directed by Irish filmmaker Corin Hardy. While the first Nun film was critically panned, it was an effectively spooky popcorn horror film that at least had a Fulci-esque sensibility to it. The follow-up and latest chapter within the Conjuring universe is largely just lame and easily one of the worst entries in the franchise.

It’s 1956 and a powerful evil has left a trail of bodies all over France. With signs proving to the return of the evil force known as Valek, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is recruited by the Vatican to, once again, put a stop to the evil. Unbeknownst to her, Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), who aided Sister Irene in defeating Valek in the previous film, is still tormented by the demon, possessing the good-hearted handyman as he finds a new home, working as a groundskeeper at an all-girls boarding school. Their paths are destined to cross again as Valek begins haunting the school, while Irene investigates Valek’s origins.

Helmed by Michael Chaves, director of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Nun 2 lacks ingenuity and is far too telegraphed when it comes to its scares. There’s a repetitive rhythm to Chaves’ staging, with the scare sequences becoming more and more route as the film scoots its way to its 110 minute runtime. Despite a handful of clever ideas and some inspired visuals every so often, there’s an overwhelming sense of tediousness that haunts the film more than its titular villain. Chaves lacks Hardy’s penchant for thick atmosphere with dull globe-trotting side plots taking up much of the runtime. Co-written by Malignant and M3GAN‘s Akela Cooper, there are some punchy bits of gruesome violence, certainly the most for the franchise, but Cooper’s gonzo sensibilities struggle to emerge.

Chaves, who proved himself capable of handling this kind of material with the moderately successful The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, is more of a journeyman director than a strong visualist the franchise typically requires. Many of Wan’s protégés including writing partner-turned-filmmaker Leigh Whannell, David F. Sandberg and Corin Hardy all were capable of balancing lasting suspense and atmosphere to elevate their scares. Unfortunately, Chaves struggles in carving out a similar style, with cheap jump scares taking priority over lingering frights.

A critical flaw with The Nun 2 is the Nun barely has a lasting presence, instead focusing on Maurice’s possession which lacks frights and a compelling storyline. Bonnie Aarons remains an intimidating presence, but the film doesn’t full utilize her until the overblown climax, in which the actress becomes swallowed up by excessive visual effects that hinder the character more than it does make her terrifying. Jonas Bloquet gives sympathetic work as Maurice, but the character just isn’t very interesting and when the film asks him to be scary, there’s nothing remotely as frightening as the mere presence of Bonnie Aarons. The unfocused script takes far too long to establish the main plot, taking all the way until the third act before gathering all of our main characters together. Many of the film’s supporting characters, including school teacher Kate (The Chronicles of Narnia‘s Anna Popplewell) and young Sister Debra (Storm Reid) are given little to do.

The Nun 2 is a largely dull and uninspired sequel that proves the Conjuring franchise is running on fumes at this point. Overlong and lacking any meaningful frights, the second Nun film makes the grave mistake of making its terrifying titular villain simply unscary.

The Nun 2 is now playing in theaters.