Supernatural thriller is big on shocks, short on nuns

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(M) 110 minutes

Glancing back over my notes on The Nun II, my main complaint runs as follows: “Not enough nun”. In other words, the original concept of a demon masquerading as a nun is oddly marginal to the story, even if Valak (Bonnie Aarons), the demon in question, continues to wreak havoc in one guise or another.

Taissa Farmiga reprises her role as Sister Irene in horror thriller The Nun II.

In theory, the title could also refer to the devout young heroine Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who defeated Valek in the first Nun, set in a Romanian convent in 1952 (these films are nominally prequels to The Conjuring series, although keeping up with the larger mythology takes a degree of devotion).

Some years on, Irene is dispatched to France to look into another case of supernatural malfeasance, accompanied by a sceptical American novice (Storm Reid), the Scully to her Mulder. Not far off is Irene’s old pal Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a jack-of-all-trades now employed as a handyman at a Catholic boarding school.

In the first Nun, Frenchie was basically comic relief; here he’s been upgraded to more of a hunk, scruffy beard and all. Either way, he couldn’t be a nicer guy, not lacking in force but very conscious of his status as a male in a largely female world. He has a thing for one of the teachers (Anna Popplewell) but never oversteps the mark – and he knows just how to talk to the young pupil (Katelyn Rose Downey) who has an innocent crush on him.

As viewers of the first Nun already know, this niceness comes with one major drawback: lurking beneath Frenchie’s good nature is the vengeful spirit of Valak, who entered him in Romania. But Frenchie knows nothing of this, until the last moment. Likewise, it takes forever before Irene shows up at the school, although it’s clear much earlier where her investigation is headed.

Putting us so far ahead of the characters gives the movie a cosy predictability, which seems to be what director Michael Chaves and his writers have in mind. The shocks are brief and not too grisly, the dingy Gothic look is as you’d expect, and the mechanical climax steers clear of the more unsettling possibilities that might have emerged if Frenchie’s Jekyll and Hyde sides had been meaningfully linked.

Still, halfway through we do get a welcome break from routine: a quasi-surrealist sequence involving the magazines on a possessed newsstand, an original idea as far as I know. This too has little to do with the nominal premise, but that may be no bad thing. When even the makers of the Nun films are losing interest in malevolent nuns, it’s time to start looking for new ways to be scary.

The Nun II is released in cinemas on September 7.

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