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The Indiana Daily Student

arts review

COLUMN: Franchise filmmaking done right: why ‘The Nun II’ works

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In August, I watched and logged 33 horror movies on Letterboxd – an app used by both serious cinephiles and casual moviegoers to write reviews, find new films and track ones they’ve already seen. Every sweltering night, I would come home to my apartment, crank the A/C and pick a horror movie to decompress with. You may be wondering: “how does one decompress with scenes of gruesome terror and visceral violence?”  To which I’d say, I don’t know – I’m just a girl in her horror era. 

So, you can imagine my excitement when “The Nun II” hit theaters Sept. 8. Horror demands to be seen on the big screen, whether it’s an original feature like “Talk to Me” or a franchise film like “The Nun II.” Gasping and jumping in unison with strangers in a dark theater produces a sick solidarity that can’t be replicated by comedies or dramas.  

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With its effective world building, engaging characters and plentiful scares, “The Nun II” offers the perfect Saturday night movie theater experience. Sitting in the AMC Classic Bloomington 12 – that beloved theater by I-69 – almost made me feel nostalgic; it reminded me of a simpler time when studios released low to mid-budget horror movies almost every weekend.  

Set four years after the events of “The Nun,” the film follows Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) as she leads a peaceful life at a convent in Italy. But, after a priest is murdered in France, Sister Irene and Sister Debra (Storm Reid) travel to a French boarding school to once again face the demonic spirit, Valak (Bonnie Aarons). 

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As someone who’s usually unaffected by horror imagery, I remember being terrified of Valak after she was introduced in James Wan’s “The Conjuring 2.” Although Valak keeps to the shadows for the first two thirds of the film, letting her meat puppet Maurice – another survivor from the first film – do the dirty work for her (murdering priests and nuns, of course), her presence in the climactic confrontation is a welcome pay-off. Aarons is clearly having a wicked good time portraying the titular nun from Hell, and her physicality has effectively cemented Valak as perhaps the greatest titan of modern horror. 

Being the ninth film in the “Conjuring” franchise, you’d think there wouldn’t be much room to grow or expand on the universe’s already very extensive lore. But an unexpected third act reveal gives way to new implications for the greater “Conjuring” universe, effectively sparking excitement for “The Conjuring: Last Rites.” 

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The writers didn’t neglect expository world-building – they embraced it. Spanning multiple locations and following multiple characters at once, the interwoven story feels rich in history and character development. Farmiga is especially great here; her wide eyes and sensitive demeanor perfectly contrast Aarons' playfully evil presence. Considering that the “Conjuring” franchise’s other leading lady, Lorraine Warren, is played by Taissa’s sister (the ever-talented Vera Farmiga), being a scream queen must run in the family. 

Given how refreshing this installment feels, I can’t wait to see what’s next for the “Conjuring” franchise. Personally, I’d love to see a “Freddy vs. Jason” style face-off between Annabelle and Valak, but I’ll happily settle for more films that feel as exciting as “The Nun II.” 

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