Another thing I wanted to ask you about is how you construct scare sequences. There’s a bit somewhere in the middle of the movie where we see a crucifix, in the very background of the frame, turn upside down. You don’t really call attention to it or anything and there’s no musical sting. I thought it was really well done. How important do you think it is to strike a balance between in your-face horror and subtler moments like this?
Well, you’re aware of it. You’re aware of that balance and, especially with the Conjuring movies, there’s a certain expectation not only to be frightening, but to also have a high volume of scares. I mean it seems really obvious, because it is a horror movie, but I guess you need to mix it up.
By their very nature scares have to be mechanical. You know, they work in certain ways and the audience has become very sophisticated and attuned to them. So firstly you need to create an environment for the scares to inhabit. I mean, I’m not a fan of just jump scares coming out of nowhere, which is why I liked that we had such a rich environment in this movie. That way the tension and mystery can lay a bed for the horror to eek out of.
Then you’ve got a trajectory of scares. Obviously we talk about the story having an arc or the characters having their arcs, but the thing is: scares also need to have an arc. That way you’re placing where you need the big ones to be and where your minor ones should fall. And sometimes maybe you want the audience to think that they’re gonna get a scare and then they don’t. Then they’re unnerved because they’re gonna wonder when the next one is coming. So it’s about finding a good rhythm.
I guess the idea is that, if you’ve done your job right, you create this sort of atmosphere of fear and then you turn up the scare dial as you go along. But you don’t want to exhaust the audience either. You need to let them breathe every now and then.
Just to go back to the visual style for a moment, you said that it was important to have an environment with a sense of character and to have this gothic overtone. Do you have a favourite image from the film in that regard, or like a sequence that you’re particularly proud of?
That’s a nice question. There’s a moment that someone kindly posted a still from on my birthday [pictured below]. It’s where Irene is praying with all of the Nuns around her and I think it’s sort of one of those iconic things. David Lynch would call it the ‘’Eye of the Duck’’ scene, which is the scene that most defines the movie in some way. And for us it’s this bit, as this white nun is in the centre of conventional black-clad nuns, praying together in perpetual adoration. It’s very striking I think and beautiful.
And I wanted the movie to be as beautiful as possible. Maxime Alexandre, the DOP, and I wanted it to look very classic. A lot of the camera set-ups are all on tracks, dollies and cranes, as opposed to too much handheld.
Another favourite scene would be just before the third act, and this is a bit of a spoiler, when Burke (Demián Bichir), Irene and Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) effectively tool up to go down into the under croft and find the demon. Here, they finally come together as a group and they’ve all accepted what they’re dealing with. Irene agrees to take her vows, Burke is leading them, and Frenchie is loading up the shotgun. I felt there was something almost mythic in this image. A feeling of holiness mixed with a shotgun!
And the music! I love the music at that point too.
Actually, my next question related to the music in the film. It’s very distinctive and it feels wholly unique from the other films in the franchise. I was wondering if you had a particular intent with it, or if you could describe the direction you gave to the composer?
That’s great thanks! I’m really pleased to hear that, and I’ve hardly been able to talk about the music yet. So first of all, I loved what Joseph Bishara had done before in the other Conjuring movies. But I also really wanted to make this film, both visually and aurally, feel slightly different. Not radically so, but I just wanted to allow it to be its own thing.
So I chose Abel Korzeniowski who’s a fantastic Polish composer. He scored Nocturnal Animals and did the music for Penny Dreadful as well. And he comes from a very sort of classical, thematic… orchestral style, which is what I was looking for. Something quite heavy that could create a sense of Holy Dread. Meanwhile, I wanted to give the Nun her own subtle recurring theme, which is why she has this weird sound that keeps appearing when she does. It comes in the form of these big, male voices: this sort of low [choral] sound.
I also thought that what Abel did really beautifully was the more emotional stuff for the characters. Especially for Burke and Irene. They have their own little themes, so Irene is at the beginning of her noviete training and she’s kind of naive and fearful for the future. But then at that moment when they’re preparing to go down into the under croft, she accepts what she has to do. And when that happens it’s one of my favourite bits of score, which is another massive spoiler, I don’t know if you want to censor this-
I’ll put up a warning.
Yeah, spoiler warning! [One of my favourite bits] is when they go down and they retrieve the last drops of the blood of Christ, which is when we kind of enter that Indiana Jones like territory. And you’ve got this guy with a shotgun and flaming torch, so It’s becoming a bit more action-adventurey. There’s a moment when they are faced with this sacred ornament, full of the blood of Christ, and I loved how the actors performed that moment. But Abel’s score really complemented that…. It’s just super respectful and I’m really proud of it.
Thank you Corin it was nice talking to you.
Thanks mate, see you again!
You can listen to the full interview here…
Many thanks to Corin Hardy for taking the time for this interview.
The Nun is released on DVD and Blu-Ray on January 14th.