The Conjuring franchise has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. With two direct instalments and an ever-expanding list of spin-offs, starting with the underwhelming Annabelle and its superior sequel, Annabelle: Creation, it’s clear that Warner Bros. Studios are going all in on its supernatural horror universe. And so it continues with The Nun, the latest entry based on the chilling creature from the previous films.
However, rather than encouraging goosebumps, The Nun and its screenwriters/director have seemingly taken a bump to the head, as the film revels in unintelligent writing, lacklustre scares and a predictable plot that barely ties itself into the previous films, that it might as well have been a standalone. Trust me, you’re going to want to repent for seeing this one.
Set in 1952, The Nun follows Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), two members of the cloth who are brought together for a journey to a monastery in Romania, upon the revelation that a sister has committed suicide through mysterious circumstances. Rendezvousing with “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), a witness to the suicide, Burke, Irene and their newfound Canadian-French guide venture into the monastery and its grounds, only to discover a deeper haunting: there is a demonic presence, appearing in the form of a possessed nun, that stalks around the corridors of the holy place, threatening to unleash all kinds of evil.
It’s this basic plot, riddled with tropes, that fails to impress or engage in any way refreshing. Having bared witness to the terrifyingly subtle Hereditary naught but two months ago, it’s a shame that horror has again taken a few steps back with a high-profile picture such as this. Consider Hereditary for a moment. Sure, there were supernatural elements. But its darkest sequences came when it tackled purely relatable subject matter: one such scene finds Toni Colette’s Annie revealing to her son Peter (Alex Wolff) that she wanted to abort him. It’s the greatest fear imaginable: our own mothers turning against us. And yet, The Nun settles for no such horror, nothing remotely thoughtful. Instead, it relies upon world-ending events that no longer terrify in this era of larger-than-life blockbusters. Unless this nun reveals itself to be Thanos in some kind of oddly submissive mood, the apocalyptic tone will never land with its desired effect.
The scares themselves are cheap: convenience store techniques that go for shock over the slow-burn. Relying heavily on Abel Korzeniowski’s score to signpost where creepy looking demon A will jump out of dark corridor B to scare you, The Nun and its director, Corin Hardy, crutch on this method. That isn’t to say that it shouldn’t be put to use: even the finest horror films of all time such as Alien and Halloween have exploited it to some extent. The issue is that, due to its over-saturated use, it loses its appeal: as we come to anticipate the jump scares, these moments defeat their own purpose, an expectation for the surprise. Therefore, The Nun fails to inject any kind of fear into the bloodstream, leaving one feeling cold as a result.
The character development struggles in the same way, with writer Gary Dauberman failing to give actors Bichir, Farmiga and Bloquet anything beyond the usual cliché archetypes. Bichir is a carbon copy of the sort of ‘warriors of the cloth’ characters seen in The Exorcist. Farmiga plays the virginal, pure-hearted hero as though she were a Disney princess. And Bloquet, despite his desperate attempts to inject a little humour into proceedings, comes off feeling the most ridiculous: a character that comes close to making the right decisions, only to fall back on that cinematic trap of moving closer to danger.
The Nun, despite its production values, comes off feeling like a weak attempt to harness the spooky energy of a Dracula or a Castlevania. And yet, the atmosphere isn’t allowed to shine here: it is populated by a plethora of characters that react rashly to their scenario. Therefore, the experience comes off as frustrating, mostly due to the film’s incessant reliance on jump scares to strike fear into its audience. As a result, rather than feeling like a supernatural rush into the unknown, The Nun is your atypical journey into the land of the known horror landscape: we’ve seen it all before, heard it all before. Without James Wan at the helm, The Conjuring franchise is struggling to leave a strong cinematic presence worthy of a paranormal investigation.
Dir: Corin Hardy
Prd: Peter Safran, James Wan
Scr: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet
DOP: Maxime Alexandre
Music: Abel Korzeniowski