Movie Review: The Nun
By Matthew Huntley
September 28, 2018
Watching “The Nun” is like walking through one of those lame funhouses at the local carnival, although that might be an insult to funhouses at local carnivals. The movie is dumb, dull, derivative, and just plain lazy. And notice I didn’t write it’s like a lame haunted house, because this would-be horror movie isn’t the least bit scary, atmospheric or unnerving, not unless you count the cost of the ticket you’d pay to see it.
This is the fifth film in the ever-growing and still-very-much-alive “Conjuring” series. It’s not a sequel, per se, but more a “sub-prequel.” The titular character refers to the ancient demon we first met in “The Conjuring 2,” which takes the shape of a ghastly nun. In that film, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), the better half of the husband-wife team of paranormal investigators, had a vision of her husband’s (Patrick Wilson) untimely death at the hands of the fiendish nun. This movie sets out to tell us how the apparition came to be.
But were we really all that curious? The movie’s first mistake is that it thinks a pale-skinned, green-eyed, sharp-toothed nun makes for an interesting character. It doesn’t. There’s not much to this villain other than he/she/it looks gruesome, and I suppose the movie as a whole could have been more intriguing had the screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who’s no stranger to this franchise after penning “Annabelle” and “Annabelle: Creation,” gave the creature a more original backstory, but it’s about as generic as you can imagine.
We learn the entity, whose name is Valak, made its Earthly debut during the Dark Ages in Romania when a wicked duke, obsessed with the supernatural, summoned it via a rift beneath his castle. The duke was eventually defeated by Vatican soldiers, who then sent Valak back to here and sealed the rift using the blood of Christ. However, centuries later, the bombs that shook Romania during World War II somehow re-opened the rift (they must have been some really powerful bombs if they were able to override the blood of Christ), once again unleashing the demon to our world.
Now, in 1952, Valak inhabits the monastery that used to be the duke’s abbey, and on a nightly basis attempts to possess any one of the poor nuns living there. His objective, it seems, is to escape the monastery grounds and, I don’t know, wreak havoc. Why? Because that’s just what demons do.
After one of the nuns supposedly throws herself off the monastery tower, the Vatican enlists Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who has not yet taken her vows, to investigate the incident. The nun’s hanging body is first discovered by a bumbling local, a French-Canadian appropriately named “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), who tells Burke and Irene he laid her in a prone position in the mausoleum, but now she sits upright. Clearly, something “unholy” is going on, because soon enough, each of these characters is either having evil visions, talking to people who aren’t really there, getting attacked by corpses, or being transported to open graves.
None of these supposedly suspenseful scenes add up to much or present anything we haven’t seen before. The movie is mostly a collection of generic horror fare, with helpless characters running amok and looking scared; loud shrieks on the soundtrack; the villain suddenly appearing in frame after the camera pans in another direction, etc. You know the drill. Plus, the plot merely boils down to a disappointingly standard good vs. evil showdown that, in the end, is hardly interesting or meaningful. Even if Dauberman’s screenplay does provide Father Burke a small backstory about a little boy dying during an exorcism he performed, we can’t help but think this is just copying “The Exorcist,” which also had a solemn priest bearing inner turmoil, although that story had much more weight and conviction. For the most part, the characters in “The Nun” are nothing more than archetypes, which is a shame since the actors at least prove they’re above this trite material.
And despite the movie’s sizable budget, director Corin Hardy and his filmmaking team’s efforts to generate chills and unease are laughably old-fashioned. They employ such archaic effects as fog hovering on the monastery’s floor; a walled crucifix turning upside down on its own; and Sister Irene walking down a dark corridor with Valak’s silhouette suddenly floating behind her. Gimmicks like these don’t come across as classic so much as lackadaisical, and viewers are likely to find them more farcical than scary.
“The Conjuring” horror series was once promising, especially the creepy and chilling original, but with “The Nun,” it has hit a new low. The filmmakers seem to have forgotten that an essential key to horror, or any film really, is establishing a human connection to the material, however absurd, so that it can get inside us and stir us. “The Nun” merely goes through the tired motions of its genre, in both setup and execution, and it ends up as a compilation of antiquated tricks, with no original characters and a villain who’s nothing more than an ugly face. It’s dismal, dimwitted rubbish, so if you happen to have the choice, check out your local carnival’s funhouse instead of seeing this movie. Not only would the experience be better, but also cheaper and shorter to endure.