The following is a review of The Nun — Directed by Corin Hardy.
A funny thing happened when I sat down in a local movie theater room to watch The Nun — the newest The Conjuring spin-off film (this one having been inspired by a demon from James Wan’s The Conjuring 2). It was a packed theater full of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and right behind me, three young men sat and talked with one another. When the film opened with a scene from The Conjuring 2, I could hear one of them say: “wait, is this a Conjuring-movie?” Then another one said with his mouth full of popcorn: “oh, I haven’t seen the second one yet.”
I started to think that if those three kids had no idea about the film’s connection to The Conjuring, then there was a pretty good chance that many other people in the theater had no clue either. When I asked my friend if he knew that it was a Conjuring spin-off film, he seemed confused — somehow he had missed that fact. In any case, this film makes sure to remind you of the two excellent Conjuring-films by bookending the spin-off story with scenes from Wan’s two films about the Warrens. But that will only make you more confused if you have no interest in those films, obviously.
Corin Hardy’s The Nun takes place two decades before the events of the first The Conjuring-film. This film follows Father Burke (played by Demián Bichir), a priest sent by the Vatican, and Sister Irene (played by Taissa Farmiga), a young and open-minded novitiate, as they are sent to Romania to investigate an incident at a monastery. In Romania, they meet up with Maurice “Frenchie” Theriault (played by Jonas Bloquet), who knows the way to the monastery, which, as it turns out, is terrorized by a demon named Valak, which is presented as a diabolical nun roaming the halls of the monastery.
Now let me explain my reason for pointing out how a part of the audience was confused by the film’s connection to the overall Conjuring-universe. You see, the thing is, that the film has a potentially distracting and confusing leading cast member. Vera Farmiga’s younger sister Taissa, who looks exactly like a younger Vera Farmiga, has been cast in a role that has similar characteristics to Vera’s character in the universe.
If people are already confused, then seeing Vera Farmiga in one scene and Taissa Farmiga in the next likely won’t help either. Although I was aware of the connection, I was even confused once or twice if they were showing us a dream sequence with Vera Farmiga’s character, or if it was just another scene with Taissa Farmiga. Confusing or not, Taissa Farmiga gives the strongest and most compelling performance in a film that is, by and large, forgettable and inconsistent with the tone of the universe.
The two films that The Nun has spun off from are anchored by a great set of characters played wonderfully by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and their films are, for the most part, serious films with horror tropes and a horror premise. These are films about a well-realized married couple that has a real partnership, which is built on a deep love, and in both The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 they are trying to help others with paranormal problems that are dealt with in a serious manner. If memory serves, even the two Annabelle spin-off films stick to a mostly serious tone.
Now here comes Corin Hardy’s The Nun, which includes a comic relief character and a sometimes humorous tone that, to me, doesn’t quite work with the rest of the films in the connected horror film franchise. Frenchie is a confident and upfront character who, in his first scene with Taissa Farmiga, starts to flirt with the novitiate who shows up outside his front door. Frenchie is both a comic relief character and a universe reference, and even though the humor he adds to the film doesn’t quite, in my opinion, work in this film universe, this was still probably my favorite character in the film.
There is a really funny scene where he is frightened by something in the Romanian woods in which he, startled, picks up a cross-shaped grave-marker from the ground to protect himself with on his way back to town. But it isn’t just his character — the movie, in general, takes a different approach to the subject matter. There is a recurring element about spitting that plays an important part in the film’s climax, and there is a hysterical scene in which Frenchie blurts out: “Holy shit,” before Father Burke then responds with the blasphemous but humorous retort: “the holiest.”
Had it not been for the surprisingly comedic scenes and the annoyingly ineffective jumpscares, which the film is riddled with, then I probably would’ve fallen asleep. Because the first half of the film is just really dull and the fast-paced horror set-pieces are either absurd or unsubtly designed — the scares are also always mind-numbingly predictable. And, to be honest with you, this right here might be my biggest problem with the film: The Nun ruined its titular demon.
When I had just seen The Conjuring 2, the memory of Valak in that movie kept me up at night, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the Valak painting for weeks. Flash forward to yesterday, where I saw a film that made the demon into such a generic horror movie spirit. I remember writing in my review of The Conjuring 2 about how paralyzed I felt watching that film in the movie theater. I remember writing about how the religious imagery in that film was frightening. I felt none of that with The Nun.
When it all comes down to it, The Nun is a disappointing spin-off, whose brand of entertainment is inconsistent with that of the established connected horror film franchise. Ultimately, if a horror spin-off film can’t even get the movie ‘monster’ right, then it’s going to start to lose you right then and there. It just didn’t work.
4.5 out of 10
– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.