Film Review | The Nun

The latest offshoot from the popular supernatural-horror ‘Conjuring Universe’ may push the right buttons to generate cheap and predictable frights, but it remains a lazy, lackluster entry in the extended series

Rote horror missing divine inspiration: Sister Irene, thrust into a confrontation with a demonic entity in a way that slides neatly into her coming-of-age journey in this ‘Conjuring Universe’ spin-off
Rote horror missing divine inspiration: Sister Irene, thrust into a confrontation with a demonic entity in a way that slides neatly into her coming-of-age journey in this ‘Conjuring Universe’ spin-off

Halloween is just a month-and-some-change away, and the masterminds behind the successful paranormal investigation franchise The Conjuring – starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as real-life investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren– have unleashed yet another offshoot of that ‘expanded universe’ onto what is clearly an eager and hungry audience.

The sophomore effort for British director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) but overseen by Conjuring maestro James Wan (who serves as co-writer and producer), ‘The Nun’ is set in 1952 and sees Vatican-appointed priest Fr Burke (Demián Bichir) being sent to Romania to investigate the recent suicide of a nun, Sister Victoria – an incident that is suspected to have demonic repercussions on the surrounding area. Burke is ordered to take the would-be nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) along, owing to visions that she’s experienced in the past, which mark her out as being more sensitive to supernatural happening than most. Tagging along too is the fruit-and-veg-supplier ‘Frenchie’ (Jonas Bloquet) who was the only witness to Sister Victoria’s suicide.

Encountering the creepy and perpetually shrouded abbess, Burke and Irene are allowed to stay the night to continue their investigations, sending ‘Frenchie’ home and asking him to return for them in a couple of days. But this turns out to be an unwise move as soon enough, the clerical duo are made to confront the demon ‘Valak’ – last seen by Sister Victoria prior to her suicide, and by us in the Conjuring 2.

Working off an entirely uninspired script penned by Gary Dauberman (with overarching story supplied by Wan himself) Corin Hardy manages to stitch together a coherent-enough chiller with just about enough requisite jump-scares to make The Nun quasi-essential viewing for hormonal teens out for a cheap kick at the movies. This was certainly true of the group my friend and I ended up lumped with this midweek, and though often disruptive, their enthusiasm was an infectious reminder of the simple pleasures that horror has been providing to audiences ever since it laid its claim on filmgoing culture.

But this is not enough to distract from the fact that what we have here is rushed-into-production hokum that’s simply riding the wave of a successful franchise. Built entirely out of cliches and delivered up in cinematography and colour grading so rudimentary that it kills the chance of any legitimately creepy atmosphere, it’ll all be flushed into forgettable territory soon enough.

A shot of enjoyment can be had during the climax, when the demonic presence of Valak invades the entire nunnery and forces our heroes to go commando among the crumbling ruins of the abbey, with some fun ghost-zombie gore along the way and temporal illusions lending a dizzying and urgent feel to the action.

But it’s all too little, too late... to say nothing of how the whole thing criminally short-changes itself by never once dwelling on the neurotic potential of Catholicism and its uses in horror. For those after something both lurid and heady, a rewatch of Ken Russell’s The Devils might be the better option.

But hey, at least the tittering teens had fun.

The verdict

Best seen with an audience of jeering and screaming teenagers – I kid you not – The Nun is bereft of any imagination or hints of inspired filmmaking. While a by-the-numbers script can be forgiven for projects like this, cheap sets and uninspired cinematography – safe and bland when it could have at least being lurid – and actors with zero star quality fail to even give us the requisite bang for our buck. Still, its global box office numbers – and the local band of teenagers that nearly packed a screening last week – stand as definitive proof that horror, no matter how shoddy its presentation, remains a bankable mainstream genre. In a media landscape oversaturated by superheroes, this can only be a good thing.