“The Conjuring” Universe celebrates 10 years in business this fall with the dull “The Nun II,” a movie that seems destined to pound a nail into this franchise's undead coffin.
A new directing and writing team fails to shock or scare with a color-by-numbers plot and a meandering, languid wannabe frightfest. A few audience members fired up their phones halfway through a recent preview, a bad sign for anyone hoping for a gripping experience.
A sequel to “The Nun” — the top-earning film in the franchise, with more than $366 million worldwide — was never going to be denied and the sequel hews carefully to the previous success. You could even say it's haunted by its better precedent.
This time it is 1956 — four years after the events of “The Nun” — and a demon is once again stalking Europe. It's the same horrific Valak we met last time and suspected didn't die, despite being splashed by the blood of Christ. “The demon lives,” we are told.
Returning are Taissa Farmiga — younger sister of “The Conjuring” star Vera Farmiga — as wide-eyed Sister Irene, and Jonas Bloquet as Maurice, the French-Canadian hero dripping with charm. The filmmakers attempt to give us more backstory for Sister Irene — mostly flashbacks to her mom — but it doesn't add much.
New this time is Storm Reid as a skeptical novice who smokes and doesn't really buy the water-into-wine story. She is well introduced and seems a good foil to Sister Irene's devoted nun but is soon abandoned and never has her come-to-Jesus moment.
The screenplay by Ian Goldberg, Richard Naing and Akela Cooper sets most of the action in a boarding school in the South of France as Maurice tries to create a new life with a love interest but a terrible secret threatens his happiness. The characters are thin and there's lots of padding but the ancient towns the location department found are terrifically eerie and foreboding. The fatal mistake is that Sister Irene gets lost in her own film.
Director Michael Chaves, who also helmed “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” oversees a few great moments — a possessed newsstand with all the magazine pages frantically flipping is awesome — but it's mostly the same flashlights-and-heavy-footsteps stuff. Wait for the quick cut, jump, wait, repeat.
“The Nun II” apes the structure of its predecessor as our heroine needs to find a powerful relic to defeat the demon — and maybe Satan also, who appears as a goat but weirdly can be hindered by a strong wooden door. There's a Dan Brown-esque feel as Sister Irene searches for clues in ancient Vatican archives.
Is it mere coincidence that this year also marks a truly poor "Insidious” outing? Both these low-budget, Patrick Wilson-connected horror franchises need a good startling. Or CPR paddles.
“The Nun II,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R for “violent content and some terror.” Running time: 110 minutes. One star out of four.
MPA definition of R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits