Lord help me, I rather enjoyed THE NUN 2. I’ve gathered this CONJURING universe offshoot is considered to be a lesser branch on the franchise tree but I appreciate its pure simplicity and love how it generously pours on the gothic ambiance.The ever unassuming Taissa Farmiga returns as sister Irene who, after some globetrotting and Nancy Drew-ing, discovers that her nemesis, the demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons) rather than being relinquished to hell as assumed, has hitched a ride inside her good buddy Maurice (Jonas Bloquet) aka “Frenchie” and is hanging out in a boarding school in France. I can’t help but find myself grossly concerned with the jump-scare-happy happenings that follow because gosh darn it, I really want these two characters to live full and happy, demon nun-free lives. This is one of my favorite aspects of cinema, it allows the viewer to feel empathy for other humans while keeping them safe from any damage that fellow humans may potentially cause. I’m fine with simply being a cheerleader here. Go Irene and Frenchie! Down with Valek! Boo too all evil demon nuns!
Much like ANNABELLE CREATION and OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL, I’m thinking THE NUN 2 is a happy step up from its underachieving foundation building predecessor. The scares (or at least the chair shaking, bombastic Dolby system my local theater wields) work well. In fact, one clever bit that plays with apophenia at a newsstand startled me even after I’d witnessed it countless times in the trailer. The titular Nun herself looks especially formidable throughout the climax and as hoary as many of the visual elements are, I have to admit they pretty much match my own personal aesthetic and I’d gladly hang many of the shots in this film on my wall. Better still, there is a previously unseen monster that makes a late in the game appearance (via a stained glass window no less) that absolutely turned my pupils into giant cartoon hearts. I wish I could describe this creature further without ruining his inauguration but suffice to say, I now covet an action figure of this glorious cherry on the cake beast. Consider me a convert, THE NUN 2 delivers the gruesome goods you'd expect and several you might not see coming.
A HAUNTING IN VENICE
I’ve always considered murder mysteries as horror adjacent fare and the latest Agatha Christie adaption courtesy of Kenneth Branagh A HAUNTING IN VENICE (proceeded by MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017) & DEATH ON THE NILE (2022)) favors the fright zone even more so than usual. Based on Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party”, this outing (again featuring the director as detective Hercule Poirot) focuses on seances, curses, ghosts and of course, murder most foul.
On Halloween night mystery author Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey… now, I know you may be thinking, “Hey Unk, one of the many benefits of being a horror fan is that it makes it easy to avoid movies that prominently feature Tina Fey” but trust me, Branagh is well aware of the delicate situation and puts her innate snarkiness to ample use) coerces a retired and uninspired Poirot to attend a seance in a cursed orphanage inhabited by a grieving opera singer (EDEN LAKE’s Kelly Reilly) in order to expose the assumed phony psychic medium Joyce Reynolds (recent Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh). Poirot is quick to find a slew of flim-flam falsehoods throughout the session but as the night progresses and bodies pile up, it appears something supernatural may actually be afloat. It’s unlikely anyone will get too frightened of the goings-on here but there’s absolutely no denying the cozy nest of tension built or the dark foreboding beauty of the surroundings. As an epic storm rages outside, Branagh dips into the Orson Welles bag of cinematic artistry he has not deigned to plunder since DEAD AGAIN (’91) and wow, Venice has not been this visually stunning and haunting sinister since Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW.