Horror movies are traditionally a friendly place for franchises: Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street are just a few of the films to spawn lengthy (and legendary) cinematic runs. Recently, the team behind 2013’s The Conjuring shepherded the seemingly small haunted house feature into a series of its’ own. This week, the fifth entry into “The Conjuring” franchise hits theaters. Is The Nun worth it? Or is the movie just another hastily produced horror sequel?
The Nun follows Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a so called “miracle hunter”. One day, the Vatican tasks Burke with investigating a Romanian Abbey after a young Nun’s suicide. To help him, he partners with a young novitiate (Taissa Farmiga). Together, they recruit a young adventurer “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet) to aid in their quest to learn what happened at the now less than holy religious site. Corin Hardy directs the film from a script by Gary Dauberman.
The script takes its inspiration from the character initially created for 2016’s The Conjuring 2, and the concept behind this sequel is a fascinating and creepy one. However, as the narrative plays out, the level of horror is all over the cinematic map. Working in tandem with his creative team, Hardy crafts intriguing and decidedly spooky imagery. In fact, the trek to the abbey is a particularly strong sequence as Father Burke and Sister Irene (Farmiga) hike through rugged terrain littered with a startling number of haphazardly built crosses. This is more than just a hallowed cemetery… this is meant to ward off evil. Later, there are a number of taut and well-structured sequences as both move through dilapidated stretches of the convent. A flash of black in the distance or a radio switching itself on in the dark shows just how effective horror can be if done right.
A relatively new director, Hardy’s last credit is The Hallow, a low-budget Irish horror movie following a young family’s fight against demonic creatures skulking around their house in the woods. Hardy brings a solid understanding of the terror in the unseen to his work. As such, The Nun is actually at its strongest during the tense and quiet moments. Unfortunately, thanks to its R rating, The Nun gives into the desire to reach for often outlandish and over-the-top material in order to scare audiences.
However, when the film puts everything on display, the scares don’t land. This occurs most notably as Sister Irene enters a destroyed chapel late at night. She watches in horror as the silloueted shadow of the demon circles slowly around her, tension building with each step. There’s a beat as “The Nun” finally materializes behind her in full form and grabs her with a roar. It doesn’t work. Later, a snake spewing spirit ruins a chill inducing scene in a cemetery. While the images are certainly garish, these moments are little more than poorly constructed jump-scares.
Taissa Farmiga is the shining spot of the cast bringing an understated, but emotional portrayal. While the performances are all perfectly respectable, the bulk of the trouble stems from the script. Much of the character development is superficial, relying on one major, traumatic event from each of their pasts. To make matters worse, “Frenchie” only enters the script for one thing: franchise tie-in. Much of what the young man does in the story (bringing Father Burke and Sister Irene to the abbey) could easily be passed off to an extra, and the movie would be no different. In fact, Frenchie’s purpose to the narrative only becomes clear in the movie’s final scene.
For a film set in Romania, the story brings a troubling (almost Classic Hollywood like) depiction of the locals. Each of our characters (including the Nuns) are outsiders. The narrative repeatedly references that Frenchie is from Canada (in order to apparently justify the nickname), while Burke and Irene are visiting from afar. Communication with the community is minimal, with the only moment occurring when Frenchie visits a local tavern. He discusses the suicide of one of the local girls; however, the subject doesn’t come up anywhere else in the movie. In fact, the scene exists only to shoehorn in a joke involving Frenchie carrying a gigantic cross with him after a particularly terrifying encounter.
Farmiga’s casting is potentially interesting for the future of the franchise. The actress (who audiences many know from her stints on American Horror Story) is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who stars as Lorraine Warren in both “The Conjuring” movies. The women share an uncanny resemblance, leading to questions as to how this film fits into continuity. A caption sets The Nun in 1952, while The Conjuring takes place in 1970. The timeline makes sense that Sister Irene could be Lorraine, or perhaps a close family relation. The Nun avoids any post-credit sequences, but does end on a scene tying it into the rest of the story. With the next feature currently being scripted, it’s intriguing to guess where the series might go.
Ultimately, The Nun could use some more time in quiet contemplation. The film brings some fascinating ideas and some creepy imagery, but in full execution it’s “Not quite ready for prime-time”. The movie brings some fun moments, but ends up feeling like a hastily produced, cookie-cutter franchise entry. Just give us another “Conjuring” sequel. Fans of the “is this funny or scary?” horror variety might find this one an entertaining sit. Otherwise, save The Nun for a rental, or even a matinee show.
The Nun is now playing in countries around the country.