The Nun, 2018.
Directed by Corin Hardy
Starring Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Charlotte Hope, Ingrid Bisu, Sandra Teles, and Bonnie Aarons.
A priest with a haunted past and a novice on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate the death of a young nun in Romania and confront a malevolent force in the form of a demonic nun.
There exists a dichotomy between James Wan’s actual The Conjuring nerve-shredders and the spinoffs from various filmmakers that has morphed the whole franchise into an unlikely cinematic universe of ghosts and ghoulies, and it’s one so illuminating as to the tonal dissonance between the movies that it’s hard not to wish you were just watching The Conjuring 3 already. Basically, there are two moments briefly depicting an exorcism; one of them plays out boisterously with jump scares, zero emotion, no substance, hoping its effective from over-the-top visuals and loud noises, while the other (a callback to one of the Conjuring movies) is unsettling and quite creepy all while lasting a small fraction of its counterpart and comes equipped with the disadvantage of being shown on a projector from the inside of a classroom. The fact that this archived footage comes at the very end of The Nun only serves to, most likely unintentionally, for the worse further drive home the point that these experiences are nothing alike.
Now, this wouldn’t be an issue if each entry boasted a distinguished directorial style beyond mixing up locations/time periods. Corin Hardy (making his sophomore full-length feature here having previously made The Hallow, and who does have the pleasantry of utilizing a story from shared universe overseer James Wan with a script from regular franchise collaborator Gary Dauberman) is granted the liberty of shooting on-location in Romania in some dilapidated environments that are inherently creepy, and only become more eerie in pitch black darkness, but it’s frustrating that all the story amounts to are disjointed plot threads and obnoxious jump scares. The Nun also gets in on the new trend of attempting to freshen up said style of scares, done so by telegraphing the moment of terror only to offer a misdirection on where the apparition or supernatural force attacks. Sure, it might work occasionally, but it’s also a lazy twist on an already lazy horror device, meaning the only question that is left is “how long until there are misdirections for the misdirections on jump scares”.
Anyway, the narrative sees Father Burke (Demián Bichir drained of charisma and going through diplomatic motions) investigating a haunting/suicide alongside a novitiate on the verge of taking her final vows named Irene (Taissa Farmiga, who is intriguingly the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, the Lorraine Warren of The Conjuring movies, which could end up playing a bigger part in the overall franchise or just be convening casting). Together they are joined by a wisecracking French-Canadian known simply as Frenchie (played by Jonas Bloquet) whose comedic antics fit far more in line with the farfetched lunacy on display here. Nevertheless, there still isn’t much time for joking around as the trio searches the Abbey for mystery clues.
It’s not long before it’s made apparent that The Nun is the most graphic in terms of violence within the franchise, going as far as depicting decayed corpses, heaps of blood, serpents chomping into eyeballs, evil emerging from the mouths of characters, and all sorts of things that feel more overblown than terrifying. A few of these images could have been genuinely frightening, but there’s no subtlety to anything here, rendering everything as white noise. The film tries so hard to elicit a fearful reaction that whenever there is a halfway decent bit worthy of some praise, it’s hard to truly enjoy the moment considering you’re already actively disengaged with the whole experience.
The story doesn’t do anything to service these attempts at horror; Father Burke is given a tormented past without much characterization as having failed at a previous exorcism; we see elements of this pain manifested throughout his stay checking out the Abbey, including flashbacks to the tragic day, except none of it is worth caring about. It’s an afterthought thrown into the movie as a vain attempt to flesh out a personality as boring as cardboard. Then there’s Irene, who is presented as someone unsure as is she wants to make the full-time nun commitment, but by the time it comes for her to make a decision her choice is met with nothing but a shoulder shrug. It’s a shame considering Taissa Farmiga delivers a fine performance and has solid chemistry with Jonas Bloquet.
For some, The Nun will work simply on its relentless determination to never let up on jump scares, which whether I like them or not apparently works on many. Barring an exposition-heavy first act that could have benefited from an approach less reliant on dialogue, the film doesn’t let up on throwing these characters into perilous situations. Let’s face it, proving the cliché true once again, these people also don’t always make the best decisions, always choosing to further look into a situation that would send any sane person running in the opposite direction. In Frenchie’s case, and it’s one of the best scenes of the movie, he rips a burial crucifix right out of the ground hoping it will ward off these malevolent forces; I’m beginning to think I need one of those for lackluster horror films such as The Nun.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com