Harrison Abbott chats with The Nun director Corin Hardy…
Raking in a whopping $365 million at the worldwide box office, The Nun is officially the highest grossing installment in The Conjuring franchise. By extension, that also makes it one of the most successful horror movies ever made. It was therefore a great privilege to speak with Corin Hardy, the movie’s overwhelmingly passionate and very articulate director.
Having made a smattering of music videos and shorts in the past, Hardy propelled himself to the big leagues in 2015 with his excellent creature-feature debut, The Hallow. Since then, he has been attached to a number of huge projects (most notably an ill-fated reboot of The Crow).
With a deep affinity for old-school horror, an inclination towards gothic visuals, and a keen knowledge of how to play with audience expectations, Hardy is a supremely talented and infectiously enthusiastic filmmaker. One who knows how to intelligently justify all of his artistic decision. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also just a cool, laid-back guy who’s an absolute delight to talk to.
On that note, please enjoy this very spoilerific discussion about The Nun ahead of its home entertainment release. Again, just to reiterate, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Hi Corin, how are you doing?
I am very well, it’s nice to speak to you.
I just wanted to get this out of the way at the beginning, but I was at the Frightfest screening for The Hallow back in 2015. And it was your attachment that really got me interested in The Nun.
Oh nice! Thanks for being there.
So starting at the beginning, I was wondering if you could talk a little about how you became involved in the project. Am I right in thinking that the studio approached you directly?
Yeah that’s right. James Wan’s company, Atomic Monster, had put me up and sent me the script. It had been written by Gary Dauberman and James Wan and obviously, as a horror fan, I was very familiar with James’ work and the Conjuring universe. So I was very intrigued to see what the story for The Nun was going to be.
The script was a very exciting lead, because it sort of surprised me in that it took place in 1950s Romania. And it was almost a little bit more of an adventure story in some ways. I [also] loved this kind of old-school, Gothic horror environment that it had, almost like a Dracula story.
It definitely has a distinct feel in terms of that specific aesthetic, what with all the castles, graveyards and abbeys. Was that one of the big appeals?
Oh yeah! I mean, whenever I’m looking at what films to make and what stories to tell, the environment is always one of the biggest factors. [I want] it to be kind of a character itself. You know, immediately it threw up a certain colour palette and old-school images of forests, and fog.
There’s just something about that that you don’t see often anymore… and it was done with love. It wasn’t like taking the piss out of an old gothic horror movie. It was just a contemporary [version of one]. When I talked to James he said that was his aim. It was very much an ode to all the old Hammer movies and the old Italian horror movies.
And then, when I was actually shooting, there was a moment when I was watching [the actors] traverse through a graveyard – that we were pumping smoke into beneath the castle – and suddenly I had a massive smile across my face. I was thinking: ‘’yeah, we’re doing our own little Dracula’’ you know?
You mentioned those Hammer movies. Are there any other big influences that you got the cast or crew to watch when you were preparing this?
Yeah, there was actually and for different reasons. I took a number of films over and did a few movie nights with the cast and crew. We watched Exorcist 3. We watched In the Name of the Rose, which inspired the idea of a religious, holy mystery in a faraway place. And then Evil Dead 2, Temple of Doom, Black Narcissus. Dracula. They were all in my ‘’look book’’.
And as for the castle itself, is that a combination of different locations, where you were trying to get the right feel?
Yeah that was one of the challenges actually. You know, if you read a script and it’s set in like a family home, you can pretty much find a place to shoot on location or build. But with this, the script was very geographical in how it was written, because it had to have these certain areas that led into [each other].
So when we read the script and tried to visualise it, we went through all the locations and there were only certain castles that were big enough. And even then the geography was different to what we were looking for.
In the end, we based our kind of ‘’hero castle’’ up in Transylvania, in Castle Corvin. Which funnily enough means ‘’Crow’’. And that served for the courtyard, the exterior and a certain amount of rooms. But it was also quite touristy, so you could only shoot at certain times. And I really wanted to change the entrance, for various reasons. The existing one wasn’t right.
Jennifer Spence, the production designer, then figured out a different layout. We built a different entrance on the back of the castle and then found other locations… for areas like the ice house, the cemetery and the convent that they stay in. So we were trying to use multiple locations. And then we built interiors on stage in Bucharest, like the large tomb room that they go into.
Oh so that’s a constructed set?
Yeah. The tomb room and then the church where the perpetual adoration takes place, they were both in the studio. Jen built one set and then was able to flip it around and make a different set out of it.
That’s cool! You just mentioned the perpetual adoration and that segues onto my next question. From an outside perspective, the film seems quite well researched in terms of all of its religious allusions and references. Things like cloistering, novitiate, perpetual adoration, they are all major plot points. Were you aware of all these concepts beforehand or was it a bit of a learning curve?
No I’m a bit of an expert on all Nun behaviours [laughs]. No, I didn’t know much about all that. It was another fascinating aspect of the script, learning that there is the world with all these practices and rules. Which the story is built into.
Actually, the perpetual adoration scene was something which I enhanced by making it into a set-piece. Because in the original script the concept of perpetual adoration was only outlined. Basically it’s where these nuns are participating in 24/7 praying. You know, almost like a relay, and they can’t break the chain and have to keep it going forever to keep evil at bay. It was a really interesting concept, but it didn’t come into the original script much. So I said that I wanted Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to take part in it more actively.
But yeah, there was a number of religious aspects that we incorporated and researched.
You could tell. It felt well realised and authentic.
As much as possible. I think it’s that thing where you want to be authentic and respectful but also need to tell a story in a cinematic way.
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