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Drive in Saturday Tuesday Movie Review: The Nun 2

My oft-repeated assertion that I would sit through almost any movie at the drive-in was put to the test this week. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the first movie of the double header— My Big, Fat Greek Wedding 3. Wedding movies just ain’t my bag, baby (though I was OK with Mama Mia). As if to make the counterpoint, however, I rallied for the second movie, scraping the bottom of the late summer barrel (yes, it was still summer Friday night when I went to the show), to see The Nun 2.

The Nun 2? So, does that mean there was a Nun 1? Sure does. I never saw it. I would subsequently learn that these are spinoffs of The Conjuring franchise, and no, I never saw any Conjuring movies, either. The Nun 2 kinda assumes its audience has, though, as there are all sorts of references to past events and characters who I assume were featured in those earlier movies. There were a few perfunctory scenes of exposition for the uninitiated like me, and that’s where the tropes started rolling in.

The James Bond movies hit on a formula for exposition where Bond would show up in his boss’s office and get his assignment. There— the movie’s plot is laid out for us to understand, right after the pre-credit sequence. In this case, actor David Horovitch plays the M-like character, a bishop whose name I didn’t catch, and Taissa Farmiga takes on the Bond role, in the form of a nun named Sister Irene. At the risk of lingering too long on this scene, it kind of embodies much (but not all) that’s wrong with this movie. Both characters were already introduced in the first Nun, so if you want to know more about this bishop or the two characters’ relationship, I guess you’d have to go back to that one. Within this movie, Sister Irene has already been introduced as being kind, humble and modest. The Bishop character is introduced as imperious, decked out in ostentatious regalia, and holding his meeting with Irene while eating a fancy dinner (by himself) at the head of a fancy table. The images suggests that Irene is spiritual while the Bishop is enjoying the material world. He seems like he’s going to be the type of charter who gets his comeuppance later in the movie. But no, he tells Irene that the Church needs her to perform “another” miracle by chasing down and defeating a demon, and then he never appears in the movie again.

Actually, Irene’s assignment is slightly more layered- there’s a demon on the prowl making its way across Europe in the 1950s (why the 50s?) killing priests and nuns and the like. Her assignment is to find it, figure out what it wants, and send it back to Hell. Of course she does all this (what the demon wants is a relic that has magical powers— not exactly sure why the demon wants it, but that’s its motivation). Along the way she picks up another nun, Sister Debra, played by Storm Reid who seems to be suffering from…wait for it… a crisis of faith! Specifically, in an act of foreshadowing, she expresses doubt about transubstantiation. To her, it seems like a priest just waves his hands and says some words and isn’t really turning wine into the blood of Christ. Is he? Is he???

Of course— and I’m about to give away the ending here— of course the climactic battle between the demon and the two nuns is brought to a close in the basement of a former winery where Irene asks Debra to pray with her and they turn a Niagara Falls of red wine into yep, the actual blood of Christ, which washes over the demon (which, by this point has also taken on the appearance of a nun— a monster nun, but a nun— anyway) and it is sent back to Hell. Everyone’s happy (except the demon). Fast forward to the post credit scene where a character probably from another movie takes a phone call and says to whoever is calling him, “How can I help?” Huh? Right— go back and see The Nun 1, and maybe the whole Conjuring series.

So, what’s happening here? On the surface, it’s yet another crisis of faith horror movie. This was done really well in The Exorcist. The Exorcist is a complex movie that manages to use a supernatural scenario to raise all sorts of real-world conundrums. Like this movie, the title refers to one of the central protagonists. I mistakenly assumed that “the Nun” of the title was the demon nun, and while it isn’t exactly spelled out, after seeing the movie I am pretty sure that the name is a deliberate aping of The Exorcist, right down to the use of the singular— there are two exorcists in the one movie and two nuns (three if you count the demon) in this one. I think the use of the singular in the title, The Exorcist makes more sense at the end of the movie when the priest who suffered the crisis of faith turns out to be the guy who sacrifices himself to actually exorcise the demon of that movie (who, by the way, is a different demon than the one in this movie). So it turns out that he is the exorcist, and in so becoming has resolved his crisis of faith. I’ pretty sure much less thought went into naming The Nun 2.

Of course, the crisis of faith subplot has repeated itself over and over again in horror movies. But the complexities that existed in the Exorcist around this plot point have themselves been exorcised by now. “Having faith” is, to this type of movie what being chaste was in 80s slasher films— it’s the only way to survive in the face of a monster. For a movie drenched in religious imagery, there is wholly no discussion theology or even fortune-cookie level philosophy. The nuns are on one team, the demon is on the other. The demon has its magic, the nuns have theirs. Here I’m thinking of the disappointing climax of The Omen 3, where a (young) Sam Neil plays the Antichrist who has it out with Jesus, but with less action and fewer special effects than in this movie.

But no, no, this isn’t The Omen 3. This is a Hammer Dracula movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Hammer Dracula movie (Hammer is the film studio— the Dracula movies usually starred Christopher Lee). The way I remember them is every new movie would introduce a new and increasingly particular way to kill a vampire, the sole point of which was to set up the movie’s climax so as to avoid staking after staking after staking. Even as a child I thought this was silly— didn’t they know about this way to kill a vampire in the last movie? After several such movies, it seemed like the vampires had more vulnerabilities than us humans. There’s a scene in From Dusk Til Dawn that makes fun of all this, where upon realizing they are up against vampires, the protagonists debate the ways to kill vampires and get stuck on whether silver kills vampires or just werewolves. The character played by Juliette Lewis then asks, “does anybody have any silver?” Nobody does, so she concludes the debate by saying, “then who cares?”

The Nun 2 is filled with stuff like that except, instead of nobody having any silver, every magical or legendary thing foretold at one point in the movie comes into play at another point. None of this translates into concepts we can take and think about as they apply to our own lives. It’s all just the thinnest of reasons for someone to walk down a dark alley, go into a closed off former chapel, or stare at the eye of a goat in a piece of stained glass art.

Which brings me to another problem with this movie: those dark alleys and closed off former chapels? They are way dark. I could hardly see anything through half the movie. I learned some of what I just watched from the trailer attached to this post, which is much clearer than the actual movie as I saw it. Dimness might be less of a problem on a HD IMAX screen, but it’s a problem at the drive-in. Also, but in part because of that, the movie was actually quite boring. The plot and dialogue were weak and not engaging, and since so much action took place in the dark, the action didn’t compensate.

Thankfully the movie wasn’t especially gory, but it also wasn’t especially scary. There are many atmospheric scenes set up to establish a sense of the eerie, but often there’s no payoff. And there are, or at least seemed to be, several drawn-out scenes that didn’t seem to serve any real purpose at all in terms of moving the story along. A horror movie can endure logical fallacies, bad dialogue and acting (though I don’t especially have a complaint about the acting in this one per se) and a convoluted plot, but if it ain’t scary, then what’s the point?

The point is that I got to go to the drive in. I got my sundae of the week (this week it was Peanut Butter Blast), and I was in what I like to call pig-in-shit mode. This was a bad movie, but I’d gladly see The Nun 3…if its at the drive in.

Though I can’t quite bring myself to commit to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 4.

OK- this is the post credit scene of my movie review— there’s one slightly serious problem I have with The Nun 2 and movies like it. “Faith” in this movie is an excuse to not know, not think and not understand. It’s an endorsement of magical thinking. We’re at a point where some of us really want it to be true that Trump won the election. Or that COVID is gone. Or that climate change is a hoax. There seem to be a lot of demons out there that can’t be beaten by thought, logic or facts— only faith. Faith, here is an excuse not to engage in reality. And not to accept responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions. All that matters is faith. All we have to do is will a problem out of existence or will a desire into existence. Faith is trusting the illogical. The saying or words and waving of hands that Sister Debra didn’t believe turned wine into blood in fact did turn wine into blood. “Faith” is magic. Have faith, and change the world through supernatural powers, rather than the tougher way, which has little or nothing to do with faith at all. So, much as The Equalizer 3 had Trumpist undercurrents, so too does this movie. And that’s much worse than it being boring and tough to see.

But with that piece of seriousness out of the way, I’d still see The Nun 3 at the drive-in.

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