One of the biggest success stories in mainstream horror the past few years has been The Conjuring film franchise. The supernatural horror series following The Warrens and their encounters with the unknown has managed to grow with spin-off films of sinister elements and characters, starting with Annabelle, and continuing with The Conjuring 2‘s featured villain, The Nun.
A prequel, the story takes place in post-war Romania circa 1952. A local deliveryman, Frenchie (Jonas Bloque, Elle) discovers a nun hung to death on the steps of an ancient abbey. Notifying The Vatican, they dispatch ‘miracle hunter’ Father Burke (Demián Bichir, Alien: Covenant) and young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, The Final Girls) who supposedly has some sort of connection to the area. Traveling to the foreboding abbey, they slowly discover that the nunnery is holding secrets of biblical proportions and is home to the demon, Valak… the titular Nun.
The Nun was a stand-out character of The Conjuring 2, so anticipation was high for a sequel revolving around the nefarious nun. Directed by Corin Hardy of 2015’s Irish supernatural horror movie, The Hallow, which seems like a natural fit. For the most part, the movie works in terms of aesthetic and themes. The sinister abbey that’s the setting for a majority of the film has a creepy presence and decor, that despite taking place in 1952, gives things a medieval feeling. The grounds around the nunnery being a large graveyard, complete with still attached bells for any poor soul that gets buried alive… foreshadowing a particular scare.
In a lot of ways, I felt The Nun was in homage to many euro-horror creators. The style of the castle and eerie, misty graveyards brought to mind the gothic landscapes of Hammer Films. The hanged nun, supernaturally disturbed eyes, and infernal figures were evocative fo Lucio Fulci. Specifically his ‘Gates Of Hell’ trilogy of The Beyond, City Of The Living Dead, and The House By The Cemetery and his lesser known ‘nunsploitation’ film, Demonia. Without spoiling things, a major plot point felt gleamed from Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight. The pedigree rather clearly shows, but with enough for The Nun to stand on its own. Featuring some cool frights involving ghoulish or faceless nuns and mad visions.
The cast really shines through as well with our main trio. Bichir as a priest tortured by a past exorcism gone wrong, Bloque as the lighthearted Frenchie and his genuine reactions to hellish horror, and Farmiga as the shaken novitate nun, Irene. Oddly, despite Taissa Farmiga being the sister of Vera Farmiga who plays Lorraine Warren in the main Conjuring films, there’s never any real connection made in-story. And of course, Bonnie Aarons as the sinister sister, Valak. A force of fearful nature in every scene she appears in her ‘true’ form.
The largest fault of the film is unfortunately underutilizing the titular demonic nun. Every time Valak, The Nun in question appears it’s always memorable. But it appears in different forms in many scenes, which is cool for shaking things up, but just having Valak bringing more terror in it’s main image would have been preferable. While the movie does provide some good frights, it falters at certain points from tone and pay-off. This entry in The Conjuring verse is oddly more comical than some of the other stories, and while some jokes pay-off, things veer a bit more toward action/adventure in the climax which depresses the potential horror.
I was able to see The Nun in ScreenX, a cinematic format where the feature includes an expansion of the silver screen to 270 degrees by addition of the walls of the theater. Being a fan of the William Castle gimmicks of old, this did nothing but enhance my viewing experience, especially for a horror movie such as this with wide environments. It only activates during certain, more scare/action oriented scenes and it expands upon it. Like seeing an even wider landscape of graves or a montage of death bells ringing and the encroaching horror just in the corners of your eyes. Despite whatever flaws the movie may have, ScreenX certainly was a positive addition to the experience.
While there are definitely some faults to be had with the film, The Nun is an entertaining gothic horror movie to behold and worth a watch, especially if you’re a Conjuring fan wanting some more connections between the series