Demonic Valak (Bonnie Aarons) is back in the black tunic and veil, different time and place in this second saga, but with greater evil intention. So too, is the horror genre’s abundance of Catholic guilt as The Conjuring Universe’s location switches from Romanian abbey to French boarding school, and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It director Michael Chaves takes the helm. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is also reunited with Maurice or ‘Frenchie’ (Jonas Bloquet) while joining forces with new characters to face off the demon in another Biblical battle.

After the violent death of a priest in France in 1956, Sister Irene is ordered by the church to find out why the evil is spreading once more, and what Valak wants. She must do this without Father Burke, but has a tough new companion in Sister Debra (Storm Reid). Clues lead them to an eerie Catholic girls school, where their nemesis reveals itself once more and what it seeks.

More thriller with horror episodes, there is an improved and more intriguing story arc to follow this time around, where questions from the previous film and universe are answered, including Irene’s past and spiritual ‘gift’. There is also a race to find the object that the demon hunts, which makes for a thrilling, if too short, ride in the second half of the film.

The first half is slower in pace, used to establish where the story is so far and the scene of the battle as well as the atmosphere of the school and its occupants, while putting the fear of God into all. Those with a nervous disposition of creepy old buildings and their mysterious upper floors will totally appreciate this, enhanced by the cinematography, palette and design of gloomy, shadow-filled interiors that trigger the biggest chills before real evil surfaces. There is nothing new to the genre here, prolonging the inevitable, but it seems Chaves wants the school to have a presence all of its own.

Among a colourful array of school inhabitants shines the wholesome mother-daughter duo, played by Anna Popplewell as mother and resident teacher Kate, and Katelyn Rose Downey as her innocent teen daughter and pupil Sophie. Their purpose as a powerful symbol of love and hope comes to light in the second half, and their bond is a reference to what Irene has lost in her early years. Frustratingly, this needed more explanation than Irene’s brief flashbacks to her mother provided. However, Farmiga as Irene shows more leadership strength and wisdom in the new film. Downey as Sophie impresses too, dramatically coming of age and making for an interesting subplot.

Without giving too much away, Valak takes different forms to pick off victims, with Chaves nicely drawing out the manifestations and throwing up clues for fans of the first episode. But the biggest scare is the appearance of the Devil in frantic escape scenes that will unhinged any non-believer. Chaves fully invests his knowledge of special effects, camera angles and The Conjuring Universe here, and although it takes up a good portion of the run-time to reveal, it is worth the wait.

Perhaps there are not enough ‘demonic nun’ scares for some in The Nun II, but those with atephobia, or a fear of ruins, might feel the greatest unease as the school is a supernatural ‘being’ in itself. Also, pay attention in the end scene and then wait for the end credits for a bonus one. It appears evil has not finished its course – neither has this universe.

The Nun II
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Lisa Giles-Keddie
Fierce film reviewer and former BFI staffer, Lisa is partial to any Jack Nicholson flick. She also masquerades as a broadcast journalist, waiting for the day she can use her Criminology & Criminal Justice-trained mind like a female Cracker.
the-nun-ii-reviewMore thriller than outright horror, and all the more intriguing for it. Excellent casting has elevated this chapter of The Conjuring Chronicles, and it's a solid, if unexceptional entry.