NEW YORK (OSV News) — If jump-scares were an Olympic competition, director Michael Chaves’ horror sequel “The Nun II” (Warner Bros.) would undoubtedly be festooned with gold medals. As was the case with its 2018 predecessor, however, the film’s extensive use of Catholic imagery is ambiguous.
Detailed, lush and even intelligent, such visuals are nonetheless deployed in a strictly utilitarian way, with the sacred subordinated to the film’s agenda of reaping chills. This may strike some viewers of faith as irksome from the start and others as onerous by the time the final credits roll.
Indeed, scrutinized closely within this context, Catholic worship practices tend to come off as a series of magic tricks. And, as in the first movie, the blood of Jesus remains a key plot device.
Amid all this, very tall, white-faced nun-turned-spook Valak (Bonnie Aarons) — the antagonist of the kick-off (who was first shown as a bit player in 2016’s “The Conjuring 2”) — trots through her sneering paces with admirable dedication, on time and on her marks. If there were a contest for the patron demon of trick-or-treat costumes, moreover, she’d win hands down.
The plot, as set up by screenwriters Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper, unspools efficiently. It’s 1956 — four years after the action of the original — and Valak, having been temporarily subdued in Romania, is back on the loose. She’s heading west across Europe in search of a long-buried relic she believes will give her world-conquering powers.
Valak has no respect for liturgical conventions, and often compels priests and women religious to commit suicide. At least, that is, she does so when not raising them into the air and immolating them herself.
Well, that won’t do. So Cardinal Conroy (David Horovitch) once again dispatches heroic Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) — by now no longer, in any sense, a novice — to tackle the problem. Her destination this time out is France where Valak has been wreaking havoc at a girls school located on the site of a former wine-making monastery.
There she’s reunited with wise-cracking Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who, as a lad, provided comic relief in the last outing. Now all grown up and serving as the school’s handyman, he prefers his formal given name, Maurice. (Those reminded by this detail of Steve Miller’s 1973 song “The Joker” should head for the nearest retirement home immediately.)
Katelyn Rose Downey plays Sophie, the youngest of the schoolgirls, whose principal function is to serve as a sort of pint-sized Jamie Lee Curtis by screaming lustily whenever she’s imperiled. For her part, by contrast, Sister Irene is — as always — both resourceful and resolutely unafraid.
The film contains an occult theme, dubious use of consecrated objects, physical violence with some gore, brief references to suicide and fleeting rough language. The OSV News classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Kurt Jensen is a guest reviewer for OSV News.