'The Nun' Gives Off 'Exorcist' Vibes, But Not Enough
The 'Conjuring' prequel takes us back in time to meet a demonic villain.
The Conjuring movies have never been completely logical, but they're well-produced, good-looking horror flicks that are definitely worthwhile. Scares come quick and often, and The Nun is no exception. The fifth Conjuring film is a prequel to all the others, and it fits in nicely. That is to say, it's a solid, but unspectacular, entry in the franchise.
The Nun is the latest religious horror movie, and it won't be the last. Faith is often associated with horror because, well, if you believe, truly believe, then anything is possible. That's a jump start as far as horror goes. It's why The Exorcist is still the crown jewel of the genre more than 40 years after its release. The Nun has all the parts to work, but it squanders many of them, settling for slow burn scares that lull us before releasing a grand finale at the end.
We first met Valak (Bonnie Aarons), the title nun, in The Conjuring 2 as she haunts Lorraine in her Amityville vision and afterwards. Lorraine eventually overcomes her, sending the demon in her habit back to Hell, but this is a prequel and none of that has happened yet. Set in 1952 Romania, The Nun works as a standalone film, but your Conjuring knowledge will definitely inform things.
The Nun is a series of moderately intense scenes that act as filler until Valak can be fully unleashed. Director Corin Hardy's decision to tease Valak throughout the movie, never fully showing her until the end, is a mistake since he doesn't have much else to frighten us with along the way. Jump scares and shadows are nice and all, but they're not going to set your movie apart.
The Nun begins like The Exorcist, with the Catholic Church sending a priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir), to investigate a nun who has supposedly hanged herself. Burke has a history of handling strange occurrences, but his partner, a young novitiate named Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), does not. They make a splendid pair, and Farmiga looks so much like her sister, Vera (who plays Lorraine in the Conjuring films), you know there's some connection coming.
Team Christ meets up with the movie's comic relief, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who found the hanged nun. They also get to know the resident nuns, who are all suspect, and they also discover some dark secrets. Eerie messages etched on doors, murders of crows, and chilling music provide a few scares during the film's first and second acts. Valak teases us with brief appearances as well. She shapeshifts and displays why the nuns call her "The Defiler." It's all unsettling, but there's nothing here we haven't seen before in other films.
By the time the end rolls around and we get a nice up-close look at Valak in all her nunny glory, it's a little too late. Aarons is fantastic in her appearances, but the end only makes you wish she had been there all along. The Demon Nun remains a one-note threat and, although it's a good one, it gets old. There's no reason she shouldn't be shapeshifting and scaring us in different ways the entire film.
Give The Nun credit for at least looking scary. Hardy (who directed the great 2015 film The Hallow) has true potential as a horror visionary. He was likely hamstrung by franchise restrictions on this one, but there's some savvy camera work going on, and his use of shadow should impress even the staunchest German expressionist. What's most lacking here is a good script. Written by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, Annabelle 2), The Nun seems more concerned with fitting into a shared universe than making its own imprint. That's death to a film. The Conjure-verse will only expand in the years to come. Let's hope the future installments dream a little bigger.