When the masterful IT came out last year in the first week of September it seemingly broke the mold for both the horror genre and for leftover films that come out during Labor Day weekend to mid-September which are not expected to perform so well. The Pennywise remake, reboot or sequel made millions and is what pushed the release of a film like The Nun to the same weekend in 2018.
The film´s title character made a terrifying splash in The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, so it was only a matter of time before she got her own feature project.
Director Corin Hardy, who had previously helmed the Irish folklore-horror flick, The Hallow, is brought in to tackle religious myth turned reality. He’s joined by co-writers Gary Dauberman, who wrote 2017’s IT, and James Wan of Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring (among others) fame.
The Nun is the fifth film in the horror genre’s MCU equivalent: the Conjuring Universe (CU). While it is better than a lot of what we get in the horror genre year after year, and I was excited to see it and anticipated something special, the film is, sadly, a disappointment. It’s only the fourth best in the CU franchise, ranking behind The Conjuring 1 and 2 and Annabelle Creation.
The Nun starts off promising with a goth setting of the Abby Carta in Romania, which is a real-life structure. While the movie shows potential with its crossing over into the unknown mind games (similar to films like the classic 70s sci-fi thriller Stalker or the more recent Oculus), it buries itself quickly by pushing too many scare attempts too quickly. Essentially, the filmmakers don´t allow for the shadows, darkness, or imagination to wander and thus waste a chance to let the movie turn into a patient slow burn horror – trading that in for cheap frights instead. Director Hardy strives for scary motifs but they feel artificial and never make you truly cover your eyes.
The storyline is pretty straightforward. It centers around a nun who commits suicide in 1952. The heads of the Catholic Church assign Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and the young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate the location of where the nun died. They are joined by the local native, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), as their guide. Their investigation leads them to the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania where the three will encounter a force and entity so evil that it will make them question not only reality, but whether the powers of God are enough to stop said evil.
The casting is a mixed bag.
Demian Bichir is completely miscast as Father Burke. I love Bichir – especially in The Hateful Eight and The Border. He’s got something special to him. But for an actor playing mostly drug kingpins or criminals, how does casting him as a priest seem at all convincing? I unintentionally laughed at some of his dialogue.
Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera Farmiga of The Conjuring fame) as Sister Irene, on the other hand, is very clever casting. She plays the aid to Burke and fits into the role of innocent virginal nun perfectly.
Jonas Bloquet, Frenchie, is the comic relief. However, his humor never gels with the film’s high contrast in self-serious atmosphere.
Director Hardy uses the Abbey of St. Carta and its many barriers of holy crosses like 1979´s Stalker used the forests or how 2013´s Oculus used the mirror. They become a Lovecraftian realm which makes its passengers question reality as they encounter monstrous creations. Unfortunately, Hardy was unable to take this atmosphere above a B-Grade horror flick.
As I stated earlier, Hardy, Wan, and Dauberman deliver us the scares too early and the bad pacing renders them ineffective. Everything from the “zombie- nun” to apparitions of failed victims are tricks and mind games we’ve seen before – and in better films. Worse yet is that the title-character-nun, who was incredibly frightening in both The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, takes on too many forms here and in the process loses her punch. It´s a classic case of quantity over quality which hinders how truly frightening this character could have been.
Dauberman, in particular, seems to be very much inspired by Dan Brown and even A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 in that he attempts to insert a certain horror-hero motif into this movie in the same vein of iconic characters such as Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers. Unfortunately, he is not as successful in doing this here as he was in 2017´s IT.
The uses of Dan Brown´s Christ’s-blood-arc makes this movie feel like a Conjuring rendition of Nightmare on Elm Street 3. There are allusions to the ominous nun appearance, the holy water, and Freddy’s bones from Nightmare 3 and Dan Brown´s traces of Christ´s remnants and bloodlines. The filmmakers cram all these references into the concoction that is this movie. Their goal was to turn Valak the King of Hell into an unkillable horror icon, but there is not enough charisma or trademarks solidify this status.
Earlier this year, the masterful Hereditary used the same mythos of the King of Hell to much better ends. If we are to compare the two, this film is a slouch. The way Paimon was used in Hereditary, in light of how Valak is utilized, proves that it takes true vision to convert Satanic mythos into something terrifying for the screen.
This is mediocre Conjuring Universe material. The Nun is supposed to be one of the cornerstones to what Wan and company are trying to craft, but instead of having the Captain America: First Avengers feel, it’s not much better than that 90’s buried Fantastic Four. Even the end credits twist is so forced that it will make you feel like the whole film was made only for that self-indulgent display of cleverness.
In short, The Nun is a big budget horror film with a rich Gothic atmosphere and plenty of material to play with that never delivers in the scares the way it should.
Thanks for reading!!
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