Do you want to know what’s scary? Well, it depends on the person, but we can all agree that certain places and subjects are suitably creepy. One of the big ones is the church, which is weird because you would think that thanks to the love and protection of God it would feel safe and comforting. Yet we have countless horror films about the failures of the church, like The Omen, To the Devil a Daughter, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Witchfinder General. Maybe it is because the Church is an area where we can explore superstition and ritual with something that feels close to home, after all, there is a church in every village across England. The latest in this trend, and the next instalment in another baffling cinematic universe is The Nun.
A Catholic priest and a novitiate go to a remote Nunnery in Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun. However, as they delve deep into the secrets of the castle they discover a sinister force that seeks to escape.
The Nun is a spin-off to the 2016 horror film The Conjuring 2 and is the 5th instalment in the Conjuring universe because thanks to Marvel everything must have a movie universe. It centres on Valak the main antagonist, or more specifically the Nun form of Valak as seen in The Conjuring 2, as will 2019’s The Crooked Man. Having never seen the other films, I can definitely say that The Nun can stand on its own as an independent story, but as a horror movie, it fails to deliver on all fronts.
While The Nun may advertise itself as having tremendous atmosphere, in actuality it feels more like a shoddy haunted house ride. Every set feels obviously set up to create tension and mood that it adds to a feeling of artificiality and predictability. The Nunnery, cloister and Romanian village look they were ripped out of a Tim Burton sketchbook. The forest is smothered in mood lighting to give the film a dreamlike feel, but really it makes the film look flat and bland, with weird ominous lighting that would cue anyone in that this is a bad place to be.
However, when the scares do come they are telegraphed in the same way that many horror movies do. There are mysterious figures in the background, always out of eyeshot, moving behind the character, in front of the camera. This is exacerbated by an overly loud score that punctuates the action, trying to startle instead of scare. I literally had to cover my ears at points because the musical stings felt like someone was jabbing things into my eardrums. Valak seems to exist to mess with people more than act menacingly. He lurks in shadows doing these standard jump scare things, like screaming at people, grabbing their head and moving it around. And while I did feel my heart skip a beat each time the film indicated that it was the time to be scared it was not a lasting feeling.
The Nun also has one abysmal story. It is filled to the brim with clichés; a spooky nunnery with secretive nuns and a demon that we already know about thanks to the other Conjuring movies. In fact, it feels more like a waiting game to get back to the original story, which it does right at the end as an almost lacklustre “ta-da”. While the Annabelle strand of the Conjuring acted as an origin for the titular doll, The Nun feels purposeless. It does not show us where Valak came from, or why he chose that form if someone hadn’t said this was a part of an already established franchise I would have thought it was its own thing. It is a film built around its scares and set pieces, which it is lacking in so there is nothing that powers the movie.
The bland ill performed characters do not help matters either. In the same way that the story has no purpose, the characters lack definition, they are only vehicles to be scared by Valak. We have a priest, Father Burke, played by Demian Bichir, who is built in a similar way to any other damaged priest, having recently lost another possession victim. Then we also have the young Sister Irene, portrayed by Taissa Farmiga of American Horror Story fame, an innocent and positive teacher, who goes through no character arch, like Father Burke other than becoming aware of Valak and the demonkind. She gains no strength, she doesn’t lose anything, she and many other characters remain the same as they started.
The Nun offers the cheapest and most familiar of thrills at premium prices. This would be forgivable if they were done well or if they had a twist placed on the usual fair, but alas they have sinned and not asked for forgiveness. If you really want to see The Nun, allow me to save you the money and trouble of going to the cinema… BOO! There that was The Nun, you’re welcome.
You can watch The Nun in cinemas now