Sister Irene has lived through some dark, dirty and demonic things. And thank the good Lord, she would heartily say, she’s done with all of that now.
Let’s just say she’s happy to be serving God in normal Catholic nun duties, such as guiding messy children, pushing a supply truck out of the mud or helping clean up at the abbey. Those kinds of dirty jobs are more than enough for her.
Unfortunately, there’s something happening that the church needs her help with. Priests and nuns all across France are hanging themselves, slicing open their own throats, bursting inexplicably into flames. The photographs laid before Irene depict gruesome deaths, each worse than the one before.
Only Irene has the necessary experience to deal with this particular mess, she’s told. That’s because Sister Irene is the only person who has faced a demon and lived to tell about it. And this is surely a demonic force slashing its way West across Europe. So the Catholic Church is calling Irene to … perform another miracle.
Her first reaction is a definitive refusal. But service to God rarely takes the exact form that you sign up for. You must serve as called. And so, Sister Irene and another young, rather inexperienced nun, Sister Debra, set off to visit places where their fellow churchmen and churchwomen have been slaughtered.
Perhaps they’ll find a connection. Perhaps they’ll find a clue that helps them understand why this terrible evil is transpiring and how to stop it. Perhaps their earnest faith will be enough.
However, the demon in question has risen from the infernal depths of hell. It’s taken on the blasphemous form of a befouled nun, a snarling entity that possesses people and butchers the faithful. It cares nothing for Irene. It simply hungers for power. The demon has been brutally searching for a holy relic that will give it the power it seeks. It can taste it. And it’s an intoxicating bloody cocktail, indeed.
Sister Debra doesn’t necessarily consider herself to be nun material. She was sent off to the convent by her father and is just muddling through. But she’s a good person and a good friend to Sister Irene.
So when Irene gets her dangerous assignment from the church, Debra joins her. And the two women both put their lives on the line for each other and others. They eventually follow a trail of clues to a run-down school for girls, and they protect the students there from a demon-possessed man, a goat/man devil, and a demonic nun entity.
The two nuns also meet a teacher at the school, Kate, and her teen daughter, Sophie. And Sophie ends up battling those demonic forces, too, thanks in large part to her innocence and fervent passion. Sophie goes above and beyond to help a man, Maurice, whom she’s developed a father-like relationship with (even though that man later becomes possessed). The girl is instrumental in saving Maurice’s life.
Since this is a horror movie that’s centered in and around the Catholic church and a Catholic school, there are spiritual trappings everywhere. We see rosaries; large crosses and crucifixes; holy water; stained glass windows; statues of saints and nuns; and other religious iconography. Congregants receive holy communion, and a priest speaks of the body and blood of Christ. Two religious relics are referenced: one holding the blood of Jesus and another holding the eyes of a saint.
For all of the film’s contextual and passing references to Jesus and God, however, we see very little of God’s actual power. There are three instances where “holy” power takes effect: a particular “religious relic” glows at one point and holds a demonic creature at bay. Likewise, a cross is lifted to keep a possessed man at bay. And a joint prayer, lifted up by Irene and Debra, has a powerful effect on an evil entity. In fact, Sister Irene appears to indicate that any power that can be attributed to God comes solely from the strength of human belief. (God seemingly doesn’t work outside of that limited theological structure here.)
All of the rest of the power displays are evil and destructive; they include agonizing physical possessions and ghostly apparitions, as well as physically obliterating and bone-snapping attacks.
Malevolent deadliness haunts almost every frame of this film.
For example, a demonic entity spiritually hoists someone into the air and sets the man aflame. We later see his skeletal and crisped remains. The same thing begins happening to a woman who is suspended painfully in the form of a crucifixion. Her skirt is set on fire (before she’s rescued).
We see pictures of people slashed open and bloody. A possessed man is bent several times into contorted shapes, his bones snapping and grinding together while he chokes and gags. A young teen girl gets slammed about and then lifted by the throat. Her neck snaps, and we see blood gush to the floor. People are grabbed by the throat by an instantly appearing demon nun.
A goat-man devil chases a group of girls, slams into doors and windows, and impales a teen girl with his horns. The apparition of a choir boy batters a woman with heavy chained objects, crushes her skull and leaves her in a pool of blood. Another corpse-like apparition grabs a teen by the head and pulls her into a vent, trying to gouge out her eyes. A woman is held down on her knees while her eyes are cut out with a large knife (seen from an angle so we don’t see the actual removal).
Furniture and people are flung about a room and dragged away by their feet. Many are battered in the course of the film, with some left unconscious. Roaches spill out of a woman’s open mouth. A huge tower bell falls to the ground floor causing an explosion of debris. People hang from elevated chunks of flooring. One falls into the pit below. Things burst into huge explosions and burn.
We hear three profane exclamations: one misuse of Jesus’ name, a single use of the word “b–ch” and someone screeching “bloody h—!”
An altar boy carries a large jug of wine that’s used in a communion service. And large barrels of wine explode and gush a lake of wine.
Sister Debra smokes a cigarette.
School girls pour a jar of roaches into a room where a woman is praying. And later those same girls torment and bully Sophie and then lock her in a deserted chapel.
For those who know nothing about the first film in this series, it sprang forth from the Conjuring Universe franchise, which is a group of loosely connected horror films featuring demons, curses, possessed dolls, etc.
And the central conceit of The Nun and The Nun II is that a demon has escaped from hell and taken on a form that blasphemes the purest of the pure: a Catholic nun in classic habit and collar. That evil, demonic force was once angelic, we’re told. It’s incredibly powerful, and it seeks a holy relic to return it to its former über-powerful state.
Yes, evil is eminently real and violently deadly. And God? Well, God is out there somewhere, perhaps. But in this case, He’s a strictly non-contact deity.
The mantle of goodness falls upon two relatively powerless real-world nuns and a little girl. Their only weapon against all that dark, dirty, and deadly demonic influence is their faith. Or as Sister Irene puts it: “The most extraordinary parts of our faith become real because we believe in them.”
There you have it, two full-length films boiled down into several paragraphs. The rest is all dark, incredibly creepy atmospherics fused to burning, tearing, shadow-jumping, screeching spectacle.
That’s not to suggest that this current film isn’t well constructed in a solely aesthetic and creep-into-your-nightmares way. It is. The Nun II is one of the purest cinematic versions of palpable image over substance that I’ve seen in some time.
But you’d be hard pressed to call it redemptive. Or even logical. It’s more like a theme ride that flies at your face; screams at your senses; splashes gore and terror about; and then tells you to get out.
Feel free to wash up at home.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.