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‘The Nun II’ conjures enough spooky scares to become a habit

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — When it comes to horror, there’s really no substitute for atmosphere, and the murky doorways and long dark hallways that come with old European buildings in the 1950s. Enter “The Nun II,” a slick if familiar addition to the very fertile “Conjuring” universe that, by deftly expanding on the 2018 hit, appears destined to become another cinematic habit.

Set four years after the events of the original that introduced demon-fighting nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and the handy Maurice (Jonas Bloquet), much of the action takes place around a French boarding school, where the demon nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons reprises her glowering role) has resurfaced.

The grisly pre-opening-title death of a priest alerts the Vatican that the evil Sister Irene had thwarted has arisen again (evil tends to do that when box-office success demands it), and she reluctantly agrees to the assignment. She’s unexpectedly joined by a headstrong young nun played by “Euphoria” and “Missing’s” Storm Reid, who turns out to be a plucky if somewhat underemployed sidekick.

Directed by Michael Chaves (a veteran of these films with “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” and “The Curse of La Llorona”) from a screenplay credited to a trio of writers, “The Nun II” doesn’t trifle with the formula, which relies heavily on jump-out-at-you scares, vivid nightmares and spooky spectral visions.

Although the story goes through some late contortions to present Irene a plausible means of fighting back, these movies generally don’t hold together particularly well down the home stretch, when the mayhem begins in earnest. Then again, by that point they don’t really need to, having already delivered the requisite thrills.

Aside from providing steady employment for the Farmiga sisters (with Vera a mainstay of “The Conjuring” series), these movies illustrate both horror’s enduring power relative to other theatrical genres and how expanding the palette in terms of geography and chronology can add a sprinkle of freshness to basic haunted-house constructions, with a story that easily might have featured Vincent Price in decades past.

While the credits contain a small bonus scene, “The Nun II” needn’t remind us that its work might not be done. Because even if the film’s finish closes this chapter, it’s hardly a reach to assume that when dealing with a cog in a money-making machine, this isn’t so much goodbye as merely good night, Irene.

“The Nun II” premieres September 8 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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