The Nun (2018)
directed by Corin Hardy
starring Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga and Jonas Bloquet
This spin-off/prequel is set in 1952, and it follows the investigation lead by exorcist Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novice Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), to the chilling suicide of a nun in a Romanian Monastery. Local inhabitant but french-canadian Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) is the one who found to body – he leads them to the scene, and ends up tangled in the whole nightmarish mess. Unlike the previous Conjuring movies, The Nun is not based on real life events. The demonic nun is indeed inspired by a malevolent force Lorraine claims haunted her – a hooded figure James Wan visually transformed into a nun and identified as Valak – but everything else is fiction.
The demon itself is described in the grimoire Lesser Key of Solomon and a few other demon encyclopedia books written around the 16th-17th century. You know, back in the days when demonology was a solid career choice. His visual representation is that of a child riding a two-headed dragon, and he is said to be a president, a leader of demon legions. Valak was also said to have the power to control serpents, so the marquis of snakes was half and apt touch.
— Father Burke, in The Nun (2018)
All fascinating stuff that The Nun merely glosses over, as it does with the few pieces of Catholic history it uses to give the film the semblance of a plot. As it begins, the movie dives right into horror territory, plainly showing how the – human, good – nun died. It’s not unusual, and it’s mostly effective in setting the tone right away. But after this scary, intriguing start, one expects a gradual but sure development of setting, characters, story.
Instead, we get a couple of half-assed background stories for Father Burker and Sister Irene, delivered through vague and painful dialogue and a flashback that ultimately adds little, if nothing, to the main narrative. I can forgive him Annabelle (2014), but screenwriter Gary Dauberman wrote Annabelle: Creation (2017) and It (2017), two movies I actually enjoyed and didn’t lack a story, or at least, decent dialogue. So I don’t know what happened here. As for Valak and the Monestary? Yet again a lighting quick historical flashback that is more confusing than enlightening, and a clichéd research montage that gives us nothing but a name we already knew. Astonishingly, inexplicably, The Nun denies itself the richness of Catholic history and demon mythology.
And in favour of what? A short running time? Or just a sequence of cheap, poorly executed jump scares they thought would do better at the box office? At any rate, it’s a gross underestimation of the audience – and worse, a frustrating waste of a potentially great story.
Inscription, in The Nun (2018)
Non-existent storytelling is undoubtedly The Nun‘s greatest sin, but alas, it’s not the only one. I wonder how locals feel about the village’s inhabitants being portrayed as superstitious idiots – after all, the 50s weren’t that long ago. As you might be aware of, I’ve nurtured a special kind of hatred for Love, Actually for 15 years now, so this hit a sore spot. But personal grudges aside, the anecdotical characters in The Nun give the film a two-faced atmosphere that is, frankly, confusing. The movie tries to be terrifying and funny – sometimes at the same time – ultimately achieving only the latter, and the expense of the former. Some comic relief is fine, but the contrast is so stark, the comedy so parody-ish, that The Nun is one step away from being a Scary Movie.
Of course its approach to the horror bits also doesn’t help. The image of the nun in The Conjuring 2 (2016) is scary, truly nightmarish – movie horror gold. But in The Nun (2018)? It’s reduced to a monster, one that we see too much of, and too often. It’s a painful, ridiculous repetition of the same gimmick over and over again: the shadowy figure of the nun appears, levitates toward the camera – close-up of the open toothy mouth, shiny evil eyes, queue the demonic growl. Once? Nice. Twice? Okay. But three times? Five times? Did a twitter bot write this?
like a Boy wth angels wings, ridding on a 2 headed Dragon;
his office is to give True answares of hidden Treasures,
and to tell where serpents may be seene, wch he will bring & dilever,
to ye Exorcist without any force or strengeth, he governeth 30 Legions of spirits.
So the nun is not scary – what about the setting? Well, the movie was shot on location in Romania. The wilderness of Transylvania, and the gothic architecture of the Corvin Castle were the perfect setting, its true star, even. However. You can disregard the following as a matter of personal taste, but to me, the cinematography here was mostly uninspired, and the ultimate definition of overworked. I love the idea of a gothic approach, but there was too much happening on screen at the same time, too many techniques and effects piled upon each other, and largely inconsistent. A sometimes messy and lazy editing didn’t help matters either. Funny enough, the very same applies to that horrendous soundtrack.
Believe me when I say it pains me to write this, because composer Abel Korzeniowski is the man behind the scores for Nocturnal Animals (2016), the horror tv series Penny Dreadful and – gasp – A Single Man (2009). Again, some great ideas: throaty sounds and ominous male chanting are pretty scary. But when you use it all at once and several times throughout the film – even during innocuous flashbacks – with an epic background score, it becomes not only not scary, but also dangerously laughable.
Are there any redeeming points? YES. Let’s hold on to those for a minute. First of all, Taissa Farmiga was phenomenal and absolutely perfect for this role. The others were fine, I can’t hold such bad dialogue against them, but Taissa was the one thing holding this movie somewhat together. Second, costume design. Not only stunning, but actually used to the benefit of the film, particularly the black lace dress with a full covering veil that the Mother Superior wears. Which leads us to some great imagery and symbols, namely Mother Superior, a couple of nun appearances, and the real life relic of the Holy Blood of Christ – even if its origin in the movie is a mess.
All in all, The Nun (2018) is the worst addition to The Conjuring universe so far (might be tied at the very bottom with Annabelle (2014) ). Pair that with news of the upcoming The Crooked Man – a spin-off The Conjuring 2 also set up – and even The Conjuring 3, which might not have Wan at the helm, and it really makes me wonder: is this franchise yet another one that is going downhill at the profit seeking hands of Hollywood productions? Or was The Nun just a misstep?
The Nun (2018)
Rating: 2.0 Stars
Directed by Corin Hardy
Written by Gary Dauberman (screenplay and story), James Wan (story)
Starring Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet
Running Time: 1h36min Genre: Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Synopsis A priest with a haunted past and a novice on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate the death of a young nun in Romania and confront a malevolent force in the form of a demonic nun.