New Review: 'The Nun' (2018)
Director: Corbin Hardy
Cast: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, Ani Sava, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga
Witness the Darkest Chapter in The Conjuring Universe.
-- one of the taglines for The Nun.
The Nun is one of those rare horror movies that seems to have been photographed by a vampire. So much of the movie is shot in murky and impenetrable darkness, that even the many torches and lanterns the characters carry around provide very little illumination. The bulk of the movie takes place in Cârța Monastery, a Gothic Romanian castle that now houses a handful of nuns. Surrounded by an eerie forest, a cemetery filled with faded wooden crosses and hidden underground tunnels and crypts, the setting certainly holds a lot of promise for a horror movie like this. It’s just a shame that we have to struggle to even see the setting at all.
The story here takes place in 1952, three years before the events in Annabelle: Creation. That would make The Nun a prequel to a prequel to another prequel. It ties in with the second Conjuring movie in that it provides a backstory for the antagonist in that movie, the demon nun Valek (played by Bonnie Aarons). It also tries to tie in with the first Conjuring movie with a twist in the final third, and while the twist (of course) will not be revealed here, holy crap! It is so painfully contrived that it almost took away some of the respect that I have for the first film (almost).
In the film’s opening scene, an innocent young nun, clutching a weird looking key that looks like a hair comb in certain angles, is chased around the Monastery by Valek. She becomes cornered in a room, wraps a rope around her neck, and hangs herself. The next day, she’s found by a French Canadian resident in a nearby village who calls himself Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who apparently put the nun’s body in a freezer for a few weeks until the Vatican sent the gloomy “miracle hunter” Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and the sunny novitiate Irene (Taissa Farmiga, Vera's kid sister) to investigate what’s been going on there.
That’s pretty much as much story as screenwriter Gary Dauberman cares to give us. What made the two Conjuring movies so special (and even parts of Annabelle: Creation) was that they took their time to develop their characters into people who were interesting and compelling enough to carry their respective movies. There were a lot of jump scares, but those seemed motivated by the stories they were telling. They worked so well because they were carried by their well-crafted stories, engaging characters, and thoughtful themes of faith. They weren’t simply a clothesline of jump-scares.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what The Nun is, and the bulk of the jump scares involve truly ridiculous elements like zombie nuns (I’m not kidding), possessed children who constantly puke out snakes (I’m really not kidding), and many (oh so many!) instances of people being thrown violently against a wall by an unseen evil. Director Corin Hardy makes no effort to establish any kind of atmosphere of menace. His work is so undisciplined that just when you think he might make some effort at an atmospheric and suspenseful sequence, he piles on more jump scares until the whole thing collapses into a big gloomy mess.
The cinematography by Maxime Alexandre is truly awful (there is only one decent high angle shot of Irene praying with the other nuns in the Monastery), and the editing by Michel Aller and Ken Blackwell is so horrendously choppy that the effect is pretty jarring (just look at the scene where we’re given a history of the Monastery). As badly made as this movie is, it’s amazing that the performances are as good as they are. Bichir is solid as the gloomy Father Burke, and Farmiga is such a warm and charming actress that she’s like a ray of light to this movie’s bleak tone (which makes the scene where she’s being strangled and held under water all the more unpleasant). Jonas Bloquet essentially plays the comic relief here, and he's good at it. He did make me chuckle a couple of times.
The climax of the movie involves characters being tossed around like rag dolls and splitting up to investigate strange noises where there shouldn’t be any (all filmed with the barest minimum of light). It’s all very boring and ugly, but what’s most disappointing about the movie is its lack of focus on the theme of faith. I’m not saying I wanted this to be the dark cousin of God’s Not Dead, but with The Conjuring movies, the topic of faith was treated in a very respectful and thoughtful manner, and given that the bulk of the characters in The Nun are people of faith, you’d expect it to at least follow suit. But dealing with any deep themes at all requires a little bit of thought, and unfortunately, The Nun is as brain dead as the zombie nuns who pop up on occasion, if not more so.
Final Grade: * (out of ****)
Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing bloody images