Published on September 7th, 2018 | by Dan Nicholls0
If The Conjuring was the high watermark in this universe, we’re down to the dregs with The Nun, a movie that’s bland but occasionally fun.
The latest entry in a horror cinematic universe that began five years ago with The Conjuring is somewhat like its unimaginative title: The Nun keeps it short, drives home the point, and is pretty damn bland. It’s also hardly unique and can only claim fourth spot on a list of the five titles in the series. A genre revolution it is not. But The Nun has a stealthy side to it that makes you slip into a relatively fun groove even as you watch the paint dry by numbers. It isn’t a homerun but being somewhat above average is a decent mark to hit in a genre marred by countless outright stinkers.
A startling prologue involving the suicide of a nun ignites the unleashing of demon Valak on a convent in 1952 Romania. Stalwart Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and unconfirmed Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) are sent by the Vatican to investigate the incident. They instantly encounter more than they bargained for when all kinds of spooky shit starts to go down. Burke sees the demon in the form of a boy he once lost during an exorcism and Irene is stalked by the titular Nun (Bonnie Aarons) as the perfect vessel in which to take permanent form. Regular-ass possession and haunting business ensues.
Outside of a couple unexpected startles there are only sparsely located elements that boost The Nun’s accepted horror quotient. Perhaps that’s due to the inherent messiness of The Nun herself as a threatening presence. What exactly does she do? What are the confines of her powers and her weaknesses? What’s her goal past the point of finding a human vessel (which could have been any of the other nuns at the convent)? The movie isn’t quite concerned with setting it up despite the many droning speeches of expository demon history.
From a technical standpoint, the standard boxes are pretty much checked. Production design is decent and some interesting cinematographic choices lend to moments of genuine movie entrancement. The score is particularly of note and leads Bichir and Farmiga make for a charismatic duo as they commit to every cliché. Director Corin Hardy swings to get on base in his big-league Hollywood debut and steers the ship admirably enough, though his penchant for rotating the camera becomes a bit tiring after a bit. Still, Hardy wears enough 70’s horror influences on his sleeve to make for a marginally better than average successful homage to tales of demonic possession gone past. But being slightly more than halfway good movie isn’t a totally a strongly commendable achievement. The Nun isn’t anywhere close to being a smash but it reaches some delightful spooky heights. Even when it misses the filmmakers’ integrity and conviction are felt through the screen.
An unnecessary character tie to the first Conjuring is a subtle surprise that sneaks in for some fan service bonus points, but other than Valak’s backdoor pilot appearance in The Conjuring 2 there are few reasons to include this tangent in this cinematic universe that aren’t purely monetary. It’s hard to imagine this movie standing on its own two leagues without a drop of built-in marquee audience awareness. Yet it’s still passable in ways that many a modern fright flick are not. A handful of treats tips the scales on the tricks in this bag.
The first Conjuringverse spinoff, 2014’s Annabelle, remains a franchise low point. The Nun is a step and a half behind the surprise prequel thrills in 2017’s breakout hit Annabelle: Creation; it is also leaps and bounds from the horror of OG fright fests The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016). Predictability has seeped in where invention used to bloom but like Valak itself this series is bound to rise again and haunt multiplexes for years to come. It’s slightly more fun than it’s not and that makes it enough of an easy scary movie pick to recommend.