Released: 6th September
Seen: 19th September
The Conjuring cinematic universe started as a 2013 low budget horror film about Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of paranormal investigators who were basically highly effective charlatans (in my opinion) and from there the franchise has exploded to include a sequel and two spin-offs, one of which also got a sequel of its own. There’s no sign that this series is going to stop any time soon, with a third Conjuring film on the way, another Annabelle film being released next year and even a film called The Crooked Man being planned which will follow another monster from the movies. The marketing behind these movies is genius, just slip a monster into one of the main movies in the franchise and then let the spin-off movies explain it’s origin story. That’s how we got The Nun because that was the big bad of Conjuring 2 so therefore we need to know how The Nun became The Nun… apparently.
The Nun follows Father Burke (Played by Demian Bichir) and Sister Irene (Played by Taissa Farmiga), a priest and an almost-nun who have been sent by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a nun in an old run down convent hidden in Romania. It’s a convent that’s so far out of the way that they require a guide, which they get in the form of Frenchie (Played by Jonas Bloquet) who is also the man that found the body of the suicidal nun. The three of them take the long trip to the convent that’s in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by so many crosses that it might as well just have a sign saying “I’d turn back if I were you” posted among them. Once inside the convent they start experiencing strange things and loud noises, bangs and sudden hands grabbing them and the occasional moment of tension followed by MORE LOUD NOISES AND SCREAMING BECAUSE LOUD NOISES AND SCREAMING MEANS SCARY RIGHT?
This film suffers from the exact same problem that so many paranormal movies suffer from, a mistaken belief that a sudden movement accompanied by a cymbal crash and maybe a scream every now and then. In theory, there is nothing wrong with a good jump scare. They can be effective ways of throwing the audience off balance and making them more susceptible to any future scares… the key word there is “Good” jump scare. There’s very few of those here. While some are effective releases of slowly building tension that gives the audience a shocking image while also paying off the minute or two before the jump scare, other’s are basically the same as when your friend jumps on your back and yells “Boo!” right in your ear. Sure, the first time it scares you and you have a good laugh but after the twentieth time, you want to punch your friend in the face as hard as you can because it stopped being scary and became annoying long ago. In fact, the majority of the scares in this film are just loud noises or “Person appears behind the main character and grabs them while the music plays a power chord” and, frankly, I’m bored with those. I saw a better version of that in the Halloween trailer that played before the movie because that at least built up some decent tension and gave it a solid payoff.
Fortunately, this film has still got a fair amount going for it. The characters are genuinely great, Sister Irene, in particular, was a really great character played to perfection by Taissa, who is basically a full-on scream queen at this point. She fills her character with a warmth and innocence that really makes you root for her throughout the film and hope that she’ll be able to fend off the evil Valak (The official name for The Nun, and played by Bonnie Aarons). I will admit that I found the ending with her character a little disappointing, mostly because we build up to a climactic moment and it lasts all of 45 seconds. Frenchie was a lot of fun, he was shamelessly flirty and bordered on inappropriate a number of times but he had a lot of very funny lines and got to be involved in one of the jump scares that worked, for the most part anyway. Father Burke was a good character but he did feel like he was superfluous for most of the film and relegated to being there to get the name Valak out and to basically appear like he’s going to protect Irene but really, he’s irrelevant for most of the film. The people playing the other nuns also are effective, even if they are simply glorified cameo roles that are there to create moments of occasional tension since they look a lot similar to the titular villain that we’re meant to be scared of.
Which is another problem with this monster… in the dark, it’s scary, at the end of a hall when we only see a glimpse it’s genuinely frightening but when it comes time for the big climax and we see it up close and well lit then all of the potential tension is gone. When it works though, god damn can the sight of The Nun standing at the end of a corridor be an effective scare. Indeed the most effective scare might just be the nun walking down a hall and the lights going out as she glides towards us, keeping it drenched in darkness and making it a foreboding figure that could potentially do anything. When it works, it works, but when it doesn’t… oh god. They really do try and have some good ideas of what to do with the nuns, not just the main one, but they never get much beyond “And now the nun is gliding towards you and you might not be able to see its face”, which is not effective after a while.
This film is a mixed bag of missed opportunities. The visuals are stunning, but the story is lacklustre. The characters are great, but the creature is kind of just average. The tension builds well, but is often destroyed by a bad jump scare or just several jump scares in a row for no reason. The film can’t decide if it trusts the audience to go with it or if it has to hold their hands, down to just explicitly having voice over reminding the audience of things we already knew just in case you needed to be reminded of why a character might think to head to a certain door. It’s not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but if the poster is accurate and this is the scariest thing that the Conjuring universe can produce then they are in serious trouble.