Imagine for a moment that you are a globally recognized film studio that suddenly finds itself with a surprisingly popular horror film series that is raking in the cash from the box office? You make more films, naturally. But then what happens when you reach the fifth film in that series – especially when the earlier movies were actually great? You are naturally going to be dangerously close to series fatigue. However, if you try to shake up the formula too much you risk compromising what made the movies so great in the first place. Unfortunately, that is the problem the producers of The Nun faced. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is actually enjoyable enough to watch at least once – it just doesn’t come close to the greatness of the first two films in The Conjuring series.
A nun’s gruesome suicide at an abbey in Romania prompts the Vatican to send in their investigator, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), to determine the impact of the incident on the local community and to determine if the ground around it has remained hallowed. The church assigns a young nun named Sister Irene to assist him. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is a bit unorthodox in her methods and has not yet taken her holy vows. Once the pair arrive in Romania they are joined by a rouge-ish young man named Maurice who prefers the nickname “Frenchie”. He also happens to the be the one who found the body of the nun who committed suicide. He agrees to guide Father Burke and Sister Irene to the desolate abbey. Unfortunately, the demon Valak has awakened and wanders the abbey in the guise of a demonic nun.
That is where the story mostly ends. It is not clear why Valak wanders around the abbey wearing a nun’s habit. Does the demon want to wreak vengeance on the Church? Does Valak want to take over the world? The story does not answer that question for us; we just get to watch Valak torment visitors to the premises and corrupt the land. I am not saying that we need these goals blatantly spelled out for us but some sort of hint would have been nice. Long time fans of The Conjuring will of course recognize the demonic nun from her appearance in The Conjuring 2 and more recently, Annabelle: Creation. The Nun is set in 1952 making it the earliest story in the series.
Demián Bichir turns in a half-hearted performance as Father Burke. He’s a likable enough fellow but he is played very blandly. The most interesting scenes for the character come about when he is fighting for his life against his own personal demons (literally). Sister Irene is played Taissa Farmiga – younger sister of Vera Farmiga who played Lorraine Warren in the first two The Conjuring movies. The younger actress carries most of the film as Sister Irene. She is inexperienced and somewhat unorthodox compared to the other nuns of her church and the assignment to investigate the abbey is her first major trial. The trio is rounded out by Jonas Bloquet who plays Maurice. He is actually a fine actor but this story is completely wrong for his character – he primarily serves as a form of comic relief that is not particularly funny and provides a bit of unnecessary action to a film series that is not known for action scenes.
The Conjuring series built its name largely on masterful cinematography. Exquisite composition and timing deliver scares when we were least prepared for them. That also holds true for The Nun – for the most part. There are plenty of moments that range from creepy to unsettling all the way to nerve wracking. It really is worth watching and I mean that sincerely. Where the movie falls apart is overuse of the titular Nun.
Let’s go all the way back to 1991 and The Silence of the Lambs. In that film Dr. Hannibal Lecter was used sparingly and was downright terrifying even though he was confined to a tiny cell. Years later Dr. Lecter would play a far more prominent role in Hannibal and as a consequence was not nearly as frightening. Valak suffers in much the same way in The Nun. We are treated to several out of focus and wispy appearances of the demonic nun but she becomes far more prominent in both the amount of time she is seen on screen and just how much of the scene she chews up. By seeing so much of her she becomes much less frightening and that guts the power of the film.
While the land of Romania and the abbey itself are beautifully captured in this movie, there is a lot of time where the audience stares at blue-greys, blacks and browns. It can be quite a dreary film compared to its predecessors.
It is worth pointing out that The Nun is by far the bloodiest entry in the entire series. I personally do not mind a bit of gore but it is a bit unusual considering The Conjuring movies were actually very light on gory content.
Fans of The Conjuring or the horror genre in general will probably enjoy watching The Nun but the movie does not have the depth to reach the heights of greatness enjoyed by its predecessors.