Set in the 1950s, the earliest setting for “The Conjuring” franchise thus far, “The Nun” explores the iconography of its titular subject matter, the demon Valak, and its haunting of an abbey investigated by a priest and a novitiate.
While “The Conjuring” film series has managed to handle itself as well by positioning the Warrens as folk heroes with their long debunked “adventures” serving as a decent backdrop for urban legends, executed by the performances of a brilliantly talented cast and James Wan’s superb direction that never loses sight of its story amidst the antics of its atmosphere and camera trickery, the spinoffs have been a bit less consistent in what their central thesis is.
To “The Nun’s” credit, director Corin Hardy does seem committed to at least making this film different from its sister series, “Annabelle,” by embodying the demonic threat with far more physicality than the more abstract and metaphysical actions in its other franchise’s offerings. The film takes on more of a pulp serial supernatural mystery feel, with Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga being dispatched by the Vatican, with defined reputations to their name as though at least one of them has been through a number of other adventures off screen and the entity of Valak actually attacking them physically as opposed to wearing them down spiritually and psychologically, with straight up graveyard fueled zombie attacks that wouldn’t feel out of place in an “Evil Dead” movie. Even the third act of the movie shifts gears to the proactive protagonists seeking a means to exorcise the demon once and for all in a hunt for holy artifacts in an effort to perform a religious ritual that makes the whole movie begin to feel like an “Exorcist” themed “Indiana Jones.”
If all of that sounds like some sort of negative, it really isn’t; despite the intense atmosphere and straight faced performances by its strong cast of character actors, “The Nun” rarely strays into the self-serious to the point of parody atmosphere that sinks so many of its horror-genre contemporaries. Its scares are earned and its story sincere and cohesive, but unafraid to delve into a sense of stylism that gives it a real sense of identity. What unfortunately sinks it is that it struggles to dedicate to the things that work in the small doses provided.
The performances are strong but the screenplay doesn’t really allow the actors to cut loose in a way they clearly want to that would benefit the actual story. The absurd image of the Nun preparing to assault people from the background doesn’t lack self-awareness but never gets played for the levels of comedy that it could have really worked with outside of a single scene with Jonas Bloquet, who steals almost every scene he’s a part of.
Worst of all, the lack of commitment to making Valak more dangerous as a physical threat or a metaphysical one unfortunately leaves the character in a bit of a limbo state in which what he’s capable of and when he can do it are susceptible to the whims of the plot. The tonal shift between threats of these natures can draw attention to some oddly choppy editing choices that are fairly glaring. A lot of these deficiencies are kind of tragic. Having been generally unimpressed by the film’s marketing campaign and sick of efforts to force cinematic universes where they don’t belong, I went into the movie dreading it only to find myself kind of rooting for it by the last third and wishing it was better by the time it was over.
As it stands however, the best I could describe “The Nun” would be “Diet ‘Conjuring.’” It’s not exactly a bad substitute if you’re hungry for horror, but there’s no reason to really prioritize it if you’re willing to wait for the inevitable DVD release.
3 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.