The Conjuring universe has mostly traded in respectability. These are the classy throwbacks to the haunted house classics of old. Apart from the first Annabelle, that reputation has held true and we’ve been blessed with a set of truly stellar horror movies.
The Nun is a grand departure from that. This isn’t the work of a true craftsman like James Wan; this is extreme schlock, a mishmash of hammer horror callbacks (so, so much fog), action-adventure tomb raiding sequences, and barely stitched-together plotting. The jump scares, so effective in the trailer, are completely unrelenting in the full film, to the point of exhaustion. By the end, the people around me were openly laughing at The Nun’s parade of horror cliches and clearly ADRed “here’s how this part of the plot makes sense.”
Still, there’s fun to be had from that kind of horror movie, and the easily spooked will end up repeatedly jumping out of their seats. You have to grade according to what kind of movie they wanted to make and whether they achieved their goals. I walk away with the impression that this time around The Conjuring producers really did just want to make a sillier, more over-the-top movie about a demon scaring the shit out of some nuns in a big castle. Silly little things like character development, tension, and disciplined scares need not apply.
Contrast that with this:
“I really wanted to try and bring the kind of respect back to studio horror filmmaking — Jaws, The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, these were big studio films. Real movies with real budgets.”
That’s what James Wan hoped to achieve with The Conjuring and Conjuring 2, according to a 2016 The New York Times interview. He wanted to bring respectability back to big studio horror movies, and that’s exactly what he did, spawning a new cinematic universe in the process. From The Conjuring has come Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation and now The Nun.
The main films, loosely based on the case files of real-life demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren, introduce haunted dolls (Annabelle), spooky paintings (the Nun), and crooked men – the spin-offs give us the origin stories behind those creepy new stars of our nightmares. Wan, unfortunately, doesn’t direct the spin-offs, merely produces them. “I kind of joke that creating franchises is a lot like directing pilot episodes of TV series,” Mr. Wan told the Times. “You set a look and feel and kind of pass it on.”
For The Nun, the directing duties fell to The Hallow’s Colin Hardy. To maintain continuity, however, all of the spin-offs, including The Nun, are written by Gary Dauberman, Hollywood’s new go-to writer for horror since his resume also includes It: Chapter 1, It: Chapter 2, Swamp Thing, and Are You Afraid of the Dark?. As with Annabelle: Creation, Dauberman’s scripts for The Nun takes us back to the 50s, this time to 1952 Romania where a nun has a committed suicide at a mysterious, isolated convent.
A “miracle hunter” priest named Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is sent by The Vatican to investigate. He is told to bring along a young novitiate (translation: a nun who has yet to take her vows) named Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, Vera’s younger sister) because “she knows the area.” But, actually, she’s never been to Romania. She has no idea what the Vatican is talking about. Neither does Father Burke. But, hey, the will of God and all that.
Once in Romania, they partner with the local who discovered the dead nun hanging from the convent’s second story window. He goes by Frenchie, and since he’s played by the roguishly charming, movie star handsome Jonas Bloque the hint of a potential romance with Farmiga’s Irene is instantaneous. Where the film goes with that ends up disappointing.
Really, that describes the entirety of The Nun – stellar set-up, flawed follow-through. The opening sequence depicting the suicide is a surefire attention-getter, lending Burke and Irene’s trip to the castle in Romania a welcome sense of dread since they clearly have no idea what they’re walking into. Once there, the production team makes fantastic use of the bigger doors, wider halls, and longer corridors to spin out some familiar, but fun horror set-ups, like Burke chasing what appears to be a small, mysterious boy through the castle’s laundry area and out into the nearby, fog-covered graveyard.
However, it quickly becomes apparent this is going to be the least disciplined of The Conjuring films. The characters on-screen lack the endearing heart of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s Ed and Lorraine nor do they possess the tantalizing horror on the face of the little children in Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation. So, they all end up with barely-there backstories and character arcs, and the search for the truth about the titular villain leads nowhere until one side character just randomly explains everything.
By the time Frenchie, Irene, and Burke transition into tomb raiders and Frenchie yells “Holy shit” only for Burke to solemnly answer “The holiest” you either embrace the stupid, schlocky fun of it all or tune it out. I tried to do more of the former, but as The Nun comes to us from the same people behind The Conjuring films I’d expected better.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- “Christ? As in Jesus Christ?” is a line in this movie. The following dialogue does not occur, but maybe it should have: “No, Bill Christ from down the street. Runs that butcher shop, Christ’s Cuts. Remember?”/”Really?”/”No, you idiot! Of course I meant Jesus Christ!”
- Taissa Farmiga’s anime-like eyes are tailor-made for horror.
- I should be used to it by now, but every time one of these Conjuring spin-offs tacks on a 2-minute finale connecting the dots back to the parent franchise I always find it jarring.
- I expect to see so, so many Nun cosplayers at Halloween and at Texas Frigthmare next year.
What about you? How do you feel about The Nun or any of the other Conjuring movies? Let me know in the comments.