Review: ‘The Nun II,’ starring Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Storm Reid, Anna Popplewell and Bonnie Aarons

September 7, 2023

by Carla Hay

Taissa Farmiga in “The Nun II” (Photo by Bruno Calvo/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Nun II”

Directed by Michael Chaves

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1956, in France and briefly in Italy, the horror film “The Nun II” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Catholic nun Sister Irene teams up with novitiate Sister Debra to battle demon nun Valak at an all-girls’ boarding school in France. 

Culture Audience: “The Nun II” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “The Nun” movie and other films in “The Conjuring” Universe, but this substandard sequel has a muddled, stereotypical plot that doesn’t do anything interesting or clever.

Jonas Bloquet in “The Nun II” (Photo courtesy of Courtesy of New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Nun II” puts a lot of effort into setting up dark and foreboding scenes, but it’s all style over substance. This lazy sequel just churns out weak jump scares and tiresome horror clichés about demons and Catholicism. The story has very little suspense. The 2018 horror film “The Nun” was a big hit, even though that movie’s story was also plagued by the same problems of being witless and very formulaic. “The Nun” movies are part of “The Conjuring” horror movie universe that began with 2013’s “The Conjuring.”

Directed by Michael Chaves, “The Nun II” has some of the same filmmakers on board who were also responsible for “The Nun,” including producers Peter Safran and James Wan. But “The Nun II” has an almost entirely different cast and crew from “The Nun.” Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper co-wrote “The Nun II” screenplay.

“The Nun II” takes place in 1956 in France—four years after the events of “The Nun,” which took place in Romania. (“The Nun II” was filmed on location in France.) Taissa Farmiga reprises her role as an American named Sister Irene, an earnest and kind-hearted Catholic nun who finds herself once again trying to defeat a demon nun called Valak (played by Bonnie Aarons), who is capable of possessing human beings.

“The Nun II” begins with a scene in Tarascon, France, where inside a nearly empty Catholic church (which is very dark on the inside, because this is a horror movie), a boy of about 9 or 10 years old named Jacques (played by Maxime Elias-Menet) is doing some chores when he notices that a ball that’s the size of a soccer ball keeps mysteriously moving on its own on the floor. It isn’t long before Valak appears. The only other person in the church is a priest named Father Noiret (played by Pascal Aubert), who meets a horrific fate of being engulfed in flames, which is witnessed by Jacques. News of this tragedy reaches the Vatican.

Meanwhile, in Aix-en-Provence, France, a handyman named Maurice (played by Jonas Bloquet) arrives at new job at St. Mary’s Boarding School for Girls, which used to be a convent years ago. Maurice interacts with the students in a friendly and sometimes protective manner. The girls, who seem to be mostly from the United Kingdom and France, appear to be between the ages of 12 to 14. One of the students, whose name is Sophie (played by Katelyn Rose Downey) is the target of “mean girl” bullies, led by a snobby brat named Simone (played by Léontine d’Oncieu), who puts Sophie in increasing danger as the story goes on.

Maurice likes to look out for Sophie, almost like a father figure. That’s because Maurice acts like he could become Sophie’s stepfather. Maurice is very attracted to Sophie’s single mother Kate (played by Anna Popplewell), who is a teacher at the school. Kate is attracted to Maurice too, but she is much more reserved about expressing her feelings than he is. The details of what happened to Sophie’s biological father are not discussed, but it’s implied that the relationship ended badly and caused a lot of pain to Kate.

Kate being an authority figure at the school doesn’t stop Simone from bullying Sophie. In a scene where Maurice tells Simone to treat everyone with kindness and respect, Simone haughtily tells Maurice why she thinks she doesn’t have to listen to him: “You’re not a teacher. You’re a servant.” And when you have a mean-spirited kid in a horror movie, you know what’s going to eventually happen to that troublemaker when there’s a demon on the loose.

People who saw “The Nun” might notice immediately that Maurice is really someone named Frenchie, a character who lived in the same Romanian village were Valak appeared in “The Nun.” Viewers who remember what happened to Frenchie in “The Nun” (spoiler alert: he was possessed by Valak) will not be surprised when they see Frenchie/Maurice acting strangely while he’s working on the boarding school campus. People at the school, including Sophie, see that Maurice often stands still and stares upward, as if he’s in a trance. Valak strikes again, and a local boy is killed.

And it isn’t long before Sister Irene is asked by an official named Cardinal Conroy (played by David Horovitch) to investigate if there’s a possible demon in Aix-en-Provence, France. The Vatican knows that Sister Irene has a reputation for being good at defeating demons in semi-secretive missions, based on that happened in “The Nun.” Sister Irene is very reluctant to take on this task at first, but she eventually agrees. This time, she’ll have another young nun as her sidekick: Sister Irene has recently become acquainted with a 21-year-old novitiate named Sister Debra (played by Storm Reid), who somehow gets clearance to go on this demon-hunting mission too.

Before the two nuns leave for France, there’s a scene where Sister Debra and Sister Irene briefly talk about their sob story backgrounds to each other. Sister Irene says her mother died when she was young. Sister Irene was despised by her father, who sent her away for being “different” and because he said that Irene was too much like her mother. In this movie, Sister Irene is the “good” nun, while Sister Debra (who is first seen smoking a cigarette) is the “rebellious” nun.

Sister Debra, who African American and originally from Mississippi, says she was also sent away by her father, for different reasons. Their family home was burned down by racists. Sister Debra’s mother died in the fire. Sister Debra’s father then sent his children away because he thought they would be safer if they lived elsewhere. Sister Debra’s brothers were sent away to join the military, while Sister Debra was sent away to become a nun.

At one point, Sister Debra hears the story of the nuns at an abbey in St. Carta (in Romania), where all the nuns were killed, except for one who managed to escape. Of course, Sister Irene knows what happened, but she doesn’t tell Sister Debra right away. Another story is told later about St. Lucy, whose eyes were removed. The two stories are connected to the reason why Valak is on this rampage. The so-called mystery is so easy to figure out, viewers would have to be not paying attention to miss all the obvious clues.

And it would be understandable if viewers stop paying attention while watching “The Nun II.” It’s one of those boring horror movies with characters and scenarios that are so poorly written and unremarkable, a viewer’s mind could easily start to wander while watching this underwhelming slog that is just a series of many scenes that have been done in one way or another (and much better) in several other horror films. All of the scenes where characters are chased or attacked look too fake to be truly horrifying.

Even the movie’s most visually memorable scene turns out to be a dud. In this scene, Sister Irene is alone on a dark and deserted street at night. At a magazine stand that somehow is the only thing on this street with decent lighting, a mysterious force appears to be opening the magazines and flipping pages, until the all the open pages form a mosaic-like image of Valak.

What happens next is just another scene in “The Nun II” that seems like it’s going to be truly terrifying, but then it literally falls flat. (Mild spoiler alert: In this scene, Valak attacks Sister Irene, who is then found unconscious by Sister Debra.) Considering what viewers find out later about Valak’s main motive to kill, the way this scene ends makes absolutely no sense. The production design of this scene also looks phony. It looks more like a movie set than a real street.

“The Nun II” is filled with a lot of scenes that are just thrown in the movie just to show more horror set-ups with not much payoff. There’s a minor subplot about the boarding school’s stern headmistress Madame Laurent (played by Suzanne Bertish), who is still grieving over the death of her underage son Cedric (played by Gaël Raës), who was killed in bombings during World War I. Cedric also used to be an altar boy. As soon as Cedric is mentioned in the movie, you just know what kind of scene will happen when “the ghost of Cedric” makes an appearance.

All of the acting performances are serviceable, but they are hampered by a dreadfully formulaic screenplay that jumps around from one flimsy horror trope to the next. The film editing for the action scenes is very sloppy. A mid-credits scene in “The Nun II” is a knockoff of the last scene in “The Nun.” “The Nun” got a lot of criticism for being dull and often stupid. It seems like the makers of “The Nun II” didn’t care to offer many improvements for this sequel, and they just dumped out a story that wallows in the mush of mediocrity.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Nun II” in U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2023.

Review: ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson

June 1, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”

Directed by Michael Chaves

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 1981, the horror sequel “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Hispanics) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A husband and a wife, who are well-known demonologists/paranormal investigators, get involved in a murder case to try to prove that the defendant was possessed by an evil spirit when he committed the murder. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of people who are fans of “The Conjuring” franchise, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will appeal to people who are interested in horror movies that blend the supernatural with real-life legal drama.

Vera Farmiga, Ruairi O’Connor, Vince Pisani, Sarah Catherine Hook and Patrick Wilson in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

How much people might enjoy “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” will depend on how much they can tolerate “The Conjuring” universe taking a “Law & Order”-like turn in this particular sequel. That’s because demonologist/paranormal investigator spouses Ed Warren (played by Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Wilson (played by Vera Farmiga) go beyond the typical haunted house/exorcism storylines of previous “The Conjuring” movies and get involved in a murder case to the point where the Warrens are investigating crime scenes like detectives and giving legal advice like attorneys.

It has the potential to make “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” a convoluted mess. But somehow, it all works out to be a satisfying horror thriller that makes up for its predictability with good performances, some terrifying visual effects and overall suspenseful pacing. The movie also has some unexpected touches of humor and romance that take some of the edge off this grim and gruesome story.

Directed by Michael Chaves and written by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (also known as “The Conjuring 3”) is inspired by a true story from the case files of the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren. The case was about Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who stabbed his 40-year-old landlord to death in Brookfield, Connecticut, in 1981, when Johnson was 19 years old. Johnson admitted to the stabbing but pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

His defense? The devil made him do it. Johnson claimed that during the stabbing, he had been possessed by the devil, which entered his body a few months before, during an exorcism of an 11-year-old boy named David Glatzel, who happened to be the younger brother of Arne’s girlfriend Debbie Glatzel. It was the first known U.S. murder case where demonic possession was used as a defense argument.

In real life, the Warrens got involved in the case because they were at this exorcism that was the catalyst for this tragic turn of events. And the Warrens ended up testifying on behalf of Johnson. (The trial doesn’t happen until toward the end of the movie.)

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” begins with an effectively horrifying re-enactment of the exorcism of David Glatzel (played by Julian Hilliard), which takes place in the movie at the Glatzel home on July 18, 1981. In the movie, David is 8 years old, not 11. Ed and Lorraine Warren are at the exorcism, along with Arne (played by Ruairi O’Connor) and Arne’s live-in girlfriend Debbie (played by Sarah Catherine Hook), who have a very loyal and loving relationship.

Arne and Debbie are both in their late teens and live in another house in Brookfield. Also at the exorcism are David and Debbie’s father Carl Glatzel (played by Paul Wilson); David and Debbie’s mother Judy Glatzel (played by Charlene Amoia); and the Warrens’ videographer/assistant Drew Thomas (played by Shannon Kook), who is filming this exorcism.

When the movie begins, it’s implied that the exorcism has been going on for hours, with David showing ebbs and flows in his demonic possession. At one point, David has reached such a state of exhaustion that Arne takes David up to David’s bedroom to tuck the boy into bed. Arne is depicted as a mild-mannered and polite person.

Arne tells David, “You’re one brave kid. I was a little runt growing up, so I know what it’s like to be picked on, but that was nothing compared to what you’re going through.” David says, “I don’t feel very brave.” Arne replies, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re not scared. It means you’re scared, but you’re hanging in there. I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

David then says, “Arne when are you going to ask my sister to marry you?” Arne replies with a slightly embarrassed tone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Despite this friendly banter, there’s a lingering sense of danger in the air. Arne looks outside David’s bedroom window and sees that a priest has arrived by taxi.

The priest is Father Gordon (played by Steve Coulter), who will be the official exorcist for David. Whatever evil spirits are around seem to know that a clergy person is there, because all hell breaks loose soon after the arrival of Father Gordon. David starts attacking like a demon child, beginning with stabbing his father in the leg. He goes through various contortions. And the inside of the house begins to look like a full-force tornado with swirling gusts of evil.

During this chaos, possessed David attacks Ed, who is knocked down on the ground. Arne sees that the demon won’t leave David’s body, so Arne grabs the possessed child and shouts at the demon: “Leave him alone and take me!” And not long after that, David calms down, but Arne won’t be the same. And neither will Ed, because he’s had a heart attack during this exorcism.

It’s a powerful way to begin the movie, which grabs viewers’ attention from this opening sequence and keeps this heightened level of tension throughout the film. David seems to be “cured,” but Arne starts having nightmarish visions. There’s a sinister-looking woman (played by Eugenie Bondurant) who keeps appearing in the visions, with a clear intent to harm Arne. For example, the first time that she attacks Arne, she starts to strangle him, but he’s able to stop it when he comes out of his trance.

At first, Arne doesn’t tell anyone about his visions because he doesn’t want people to think that he’s crazy. But then, things happen to the point where he can no longer keep it a secret that strange things have been happening to him. It’s eventually revealed in the movie who this evil-looking woman is and her ultimate malicious intent.

Ed’s heart attack lands him in a hospital emergency room. He’s eventually released, but he has to use a wheelchair for a good deal of the story. Over time (this movie takes place over a six-month period, from May to November 1981), Ed doesn’t need the wheelchair anymore, but he has to use a cane. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” includes a flashback to May 1981, when the Glatzels moved into the home that appears to be where the family first encountered the demon, which attacked David in a memorable scene involving a water bed.

Meanwhile, Arne and Debbie are trying to get their lives back to normal. Arne works for a tree service company, and Debbie works for Brookfield Boarding Kennels, a pet service company that’s located inside a two-story house. Debbie and Arne live in the house rent-free as part of her job. It’s a house that’s filled with barking dogs kept in cages when they’re inside.

In a conversation that takes place after the exorcism, Arne suggests to Debbie that they move away from Brookfield. He also drops hints that they should eventually get married. Debbie seems reluctant to move away from Brookfield because she and Arne can’t really afford to move yet and she doesn’t want to live too far away from her family. However, she tells Arne that she’ll think about it.

The owner of Brookfield Boarding Kennels is a creepy drunk named Bruno Salz (played by Ronnie Gene Blevins), who has an underpaid Debbie doing most of the work. She’s very responsible and caring in her job, where she’s essentially the manager and bookkeeper for the business. And that’s another reason why Debbie doesn’t really want to move: She’s afraid that the dogs won’t be taken care of very well if flaky Bruno is left in charge of the kennel.

Bruno has been pestering Arne to repair Bruno’s broken stereo in the house’s living room. And one day, when the stereo is repaired, Bruno decides to crank up the music and have an impromptu party with Debbie, Arne and plenty of alcohol. Bruno plays Blondie’s “Call Me” full blast on the stereo and starts dancing with an uncomfortable-looking Debbie. (“Call Me” will be featured in another part of the movie too.)

Suddenly, Arne seems to be losing touch with reality. And this is where he’s supposed to be possessed by the demon. There’s an almost psychedelic nightmare that’s depicted on screen. And by the end, it’s revealed that Bruno was stabbed to death by Arne. (The stabbing is never shown on screen.) The murder in the movie takes place in September 1981, but in real life, the murder happened on February 16, 1981. It was the first murder in Brookfield’s history.

In a daze, Arne walks down a deserted road, with blood on his hands and clothes. A police officer (played by Chris Greene) in a patrol car stops to ask Arne what’s going on. And that’s when Arne says, “I think I hurt someone.” Arne is arrested for Bruno’s murder. And guess who’s coming back to Brookfield to investigate?

Fans of mystery solving will appreciate the added storyline of Ed and Lorraine Warren doing a lot of detective-like investigating, as the Warrens dig deep to find out the origins of this evil spirit that seems to have taken possession of Arne. In the movie, the demon isn’t inside of Arne all of the time. Arne is placed in the psychiatric ward in the local jail, and he’s a fairly passive prisoner most of the time. But there are moments when the demon comes back to haunt and possibly harm Arne.

In the movie, the Warrens are depicted as being the ones to convince Arne’s defense attorney Meryl (played by Ashley LeConte Campbell) to use demonic possession as a defense argument for Arne. It’s an unprecedented legal strategy that Meryl is convinced won’t work, until Ed and Lorraine show the attorney what they found in their demonologist research over the years. Debbie and the rest of the Glatzel family fully believe that Arne was possessed when he killed Bruno, so the Glatzels are supportive of Arne before and during the trial.

The Warrens take it upon themselves to help gather evidence for this case, but they also want to see if they can get rid of this demonic spirit that they believe exists. The Warrens’ investigation leads them to Danvers, Massachusetts, where they find out how the mysterious case of two teenage girls who were best friends is somehow connected to Arne’s case.

The teenagers are named Katie Lincoln (played by Andrea Andrade) and Jessica Louise Strong (played by Ingrid Bisu), who went missing in May 1981. Katie was found murdered, while Jessica is still missing. The Warrens also track down a former priest whose last name is Kastner (played by John Noble), who might have some answers about this particular demon.

Along the way, Ed and Lorraine also get help from a jail priest named Father Newman (played by Vince Pisani) and a police detective in Danvers named Sergeant Clay (played by Keith Arthur Bolden), who is skeptical at first about helping the Warrens. But then, things happen that change Sergeant Clay’s mind. The movie has a few far-fetched things in the story, such as Sergeant Clay being willing to share his case files with Ed and Lorraine, when in reality that’s a serious breach of police protocol.

And some of the horror scenes are over-the-top with visual effects happening in a very “only in a movie” way, instead of depicting what the real exorcisms probably looked like. The amount of body contortions alone would break bones and put someone in a hospital. But elaborate scare spectacles are what people who watch horror movies like this expect to see.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” delivers in a way that’s effectively chilling but not as disturbing as 1973’s “The Exorcist,” the gold standard for exorcism movies. However, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is a vast improvement over director Chaves’ feature-film directorial debut: the bland 2019 horror flick “The Curse of La Llorona.” Because of Arne’s murder trial, there’s a lot more at stake than the usual attempts to rid a person or a house of an evil spirit.

“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is also helped by a suitably convincing production design (by Jennifer Spence), which involves a lot of dusty, dark and unsettling places. And it’s easy to see why the movie changed the seasonal time period to the late summer/early autumn, instead of winter, because cinematographer Michael Burgess effectively uses a lot of autumn-like brown and gold for the exterior shots to contrast with the black and gray of the biggest horror scenes in the film. “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” would have looked like a very different movie if it took place in the winter.

Viewers will also see little bit more backstory to Ed and Lorraine’s relationship. In brief romantic flashback scenes, it’s shown how the couple met: Thirty years prior, when Ed and Lorraine were both 17 years old, Lorraine (played by Megan Ashley Brown) went with some friends to a movie theater, where Ed (played by Mitchell Hoog) was working as an usher. It was attraction at first sight, and they began dating shortly afterward.

The movie doesn’t have these scenes as filler. Lorraine is reminiscing about this courtship because of Ed’s near-death scare with his heart attack. It’s caused her to reflect on their longtime relationship. And it’s made the couple appreciate their marriage and partnership even more.

But the movie also has a few touches of comic relief, by showing some of the personal dynamics between this longtime married couple. There are some subtle references to the gender roles that were and still are expected of couples who work together. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine has to take charge of much of the literal physical legwork in the investigation because of Ed’s recovery from his heart attack.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine want to investigate a cellar in the Glatzel house, Ed (who is using a cane) realistically won’t be able to crawl around in the cellar. However, Ed tells Lorraine, who tends to dress like a prim and proper schoolteacher: “Honey, let me handle it. You’re going to ruin your dress if you go in there … Be careful.” With an “I can handle it” expression on her face, Lorraine calmly says, “Just hold my purse,” as she hands her purse to Ed. It’s a very realistic and hilarious moment that says it all about how women are often underestimated by men.

The film also shows Ed’s frustration at not being able to physically move around in the way that he’s been used to for all of his life. His anxiety isn’t portrayed in a heavy-handed way, but it’s a nod to the lifestyle adjustments that people who’ve been able-bodied have to go through when they find themselves disabled, even if it’s a temporary disabled condition. Ed does some griping about it, but not in a way that’s too self-pitying.

In a scene where Ed and Lorraine leave a courthouse after a preliminary hearing for Arne, observant viewers will notice that Ed needs to be carried in his wheelchair down the courtroom steps. It’s because the story takes place nine years before the Americans With Disabilities Act made it federal law in 1990 for buildings to provide reasonable access for disabled people. Nowadays, a courtroom building with outdoor steps, such as the building depicted in the movie, is also supposed to have ramps for people who use wheelchairs or walkers.

Since the first “The Conjuring” movie was released in 2013, Farmiga and Wilson have settled into these roles with a charming familiarity. Lorraine is the more level-headed and articulate one in this couple, while Ed (and his East Coast dialect slang) is the more approachable and down-to-earth spouse. Farmiga and Wilson are believable as a couple with a very deep love and respect for each other.

The rest of the cast members are perfectly fine in their roles, but the characters that are new to “The Conjuring” franchise for this movie were clearly written as only for this movie. The character of Arne is a little on the generic side, but O’Connor does an admirable job of conveying Arne’s inner turmoil. Bondurant’s role as the mystery woman who’s been plaguing Arne definitely brings a menacing aura to the movie, but she hardly says anything, so her presence is literally more muted than it needs to be.

Make no mistake: Ed and Lorraine Warren are the main characters for viewers to be the most invested in emotionally. In “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Lorraine’s psychic abilities are a major part of the story. People might have mixed feelings about how these psychic visions are depicted in the movie and how much of this real-life case was embellished into a Hollywood version.

But just like the rest of the story, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” isn’t about trying to explain a lot of things that can’t be explained by scientific facts. Whether or not viewers believe that demonic spirits exist, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” succeeds in providing plenty of memorable horror that makes it a worthy part of “The Conjuring” universe.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on June 4, 2021. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021.

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