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.
The Conjuring “universe” has enjoyed a surprisingly solid batting average to date, with only one of the horror franchise’s four movies turning in cynical, forgettable results (the risibly awful Annabelle, of course). That is, until now. The Nun, spun-off from The Conjuring 2‘s terrifying demonic nun Valak, gathers a talented cast and crew for a dishwater-dull travelogue of mouldy genre tropes and unintentional comedy.
In 1952, a nun commits suicide at Romania’s Cârța Monastery, prompting Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and fresh-faced novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Together with the young man who discovered the nun’s corpse, “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), the pair scout the abbey and, naturally, are soon enough beleaguered by malevolent paranormal forces.
Horror movie spin-offs rarely invite much optimism, though this one actually had a fair amount going for it on paper; a pulse-quickening antagonist, a gorgeously sinister setting, a talented director (The Hallow‘s Corin Hardy) and skilled, likeable actors. Ultimately, it comes down – as it usually does – to the script, penned by Gary Dauberman, who previously wrote both Annabelle and It, which couldn’t be at much further ends of the quality spectrum.
The film’s primary objectives are obvious; to expand the mythology surrounding Valak (Bonnie Aarons) and neatly tie the movie’s events to the main Conjuring series. But crafting a compelling, logical, character-driven story in its own right ultimately feels secondary or even tertiary in priority, given the script’s reliance on aggressive amounts of expository dialogue, while the potential-filled set-pieces employ excessive, lazy jump scares you could time to a metronome.
The white-knuckle intensity of the Conjuring movies in particular feels almost completely absent here, perhaps the ultimate testament to James Wan’s skill at crafting tightly-wound thrills in the core franchise.
In The Nun, things feel decidedly looser and less-fussed; scenes take an agonising amount of time to play out, and are too often in the service of those aforementioned low-effort jolts. Though the cast tries their damnedest to sell the wonky material, even at just 96 minutes in length the film is a tough slog to the finish line.
At least the actors do indeed acquit themselves relatively well; Taissa Farmiga has talent worthy of her sister Vera – who, in a weird maybe-coincidence, stars in the Conjuring films – and manages to be a wet-around-the-ears nun-in-training without seeming like a naive, waifish caricature. Demián Bichir could meanwhile just sleepwalk his way through material like this for an easy paycheck, but to his credit, he shoots it through with more conviction than it probably deserves. For all of the film’s troubles, the casting department sure did their jobs.
Jonas Bloquet is a bit of a tougher sell, if only because he’s given the worst dialogue of the movie to work with. Though he shines during a few brief moments of surging intensity, he’s also often encumbered with the comic relief one-liners, few of which actually land and many of which only undermine any sinister air the film actually tries to muster.
If the investigation of the nun’s suicide is a damp squib, the real disappointment is how the film treats its titular antagonist. The famous painting scene from The Conjuring 2 made Valak an instant horror icon, but in this instance the demon’s presence feels decidedly more tepid and watered-down. Again, much of that may be down to the expertise of James Wan, who only serves as producer and story writer this time.
The Nun may be a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” movie when it comes to Valak; show the demonic entity too much and it’s sure to lose its entrancing power, but keep it in the shadows too long and audiences will lose interest. For the first hour of this movie Valak is mostly just whispered about and lurks around in distant negative space, yet even when the creature fully arrives, there’s nothing here that comes even remotely close to the brilliance of that painting scene.
That’s the saddest thing; The Nun takes a standout horror antagonist and basically transmutes them into a generic baddie for the heroes to battle. This is further exacerbated by the movie’s tone, which wavers increasingly uneasily as the third act drags on, with ever-more absurd elements being piled on top of one another, practically begging the audience to start giggling. And that’s to say nothing of its predictably ham-fisted ending, which does pretty much exactly what you expect it will.
Despite the promise of a skilled cast, cracking locale and spooky villain, The Nun settles for drab soullessness in this disappointing addition to the Conjuring franchise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.