I can’t say I expected much out of The Nun II. The first film did very well for itself at the box office and made the character a new horror icon of sorts, but as a horror film, its content struggled to match the lofty vision of its Gothic European setting and atmosphere.
The Nun is a lavish-looking ghost house for the most part, and that represents a frustrating missed opportunity considering the high bar of the film it was born from (The Conjuring 2). The Nun II is possibly even more frustrating because it contains one superbly-set up scene that shows up the rest of the film’s rather humdrum nature.
I am, of course, talking about the newsstand sequence. It is a largely practical affair that you can’t help but admire for the effort that goes into it. Pages and imagery turn at speed to eventually reveal the devilish figure of the demonic Nun Valak. It’s no surprise it was hyped up before the film’s release, it’s easily the best-crafted sequence in the film, and that’s a big problem for the rest of The Nun II.
The Nun II suffers for two things in 2023. That sequence, and the existence of The Pope’s Exorcist. The rest of the film isn’t terrible by any means, just by the numbers and predictable. The latter is true of The Pope’s Exorcist, which combined with a generally awful level of plot predictability, should be a death sentence, but that film has a strong central figure in Russell Crowe, who tears through scenery like Godzilla through cities. His consistent presence ensures it’s not a total wash. It’s an entertaining disaster.
The Nun II has one scene of strength that almost feels disconnected from the rest of it. The film’s false confidence in the strength of its characters and their relationships from the first film don’t help it away from the scares, and that also impacts the sense of peril that is needed to make the scares work. Lord knows it tries to up the ante on peril in the story by setting much of the movie in a school, but a lack of teeth is clearly visible when it comes to what happens when Valak comes up against kids.
By the time we reach the theatrical finale, The Nun II has gone through every garden-variety horror scare (ooh, there’s The Nun! being the general theme behind them). Even in that standout scene, that’s essentially what it is dressed up as something fancier, but that’s what the whole film should be aiming for.
The Nun II never had to be this groundbreaking horror movie sequel. It just needed more craft and consistency in how it delivered its horror. The old favorites can still feel fresh when the structure is there to back them up.