The Conjuring series arrived unexpectedly in 2013, although, in-retrospect, it seemed like we should have anticipated it. James Wan had already flourished and found success with the SAW franchise, the Insidious series, and had more than a handful of horror productions on his resume, it was only a matter-of-time before he had such a financially and critically lucrative break-through.
In the 2000s, very few horror films have managed to cross the 300 million thresholds. Even less if you omit series’ that only share strands of the genre’s DNA like The Meg or World War Z. It only leaves The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, the more-recent adaptation of Stephen Kings’ IT, Annabelle: Creation, and now, The Nun. A film series managing to outdo itself in the horror genre so many times is unheard-of, and while the series may have peaked with the original film from a critical standpoint, although, my favorite of the series remains The Conjuring 2, The Conjuring Universe really is the first time we’ve ever seen an established horror world since the loose-threads that connected the Universal Monster films of yesteryear.
Similar to the Annabelle films, which spun off from the first Conjuring film, The Nun is a film adapted after its introduction in The Conjuring 2. The Nun is a gothic supernatural horror film directed by Corin Hardy and written by Gary Dauberman. Dauberman is a screenwriter I feel like I’ve talked a lot about, as he also received a credit for the new It film and Annabelle: Creation.
Corin Hardy is other-wise known for his directorial work on The Hallow, a film I have seen, but, for the life of me, can’t recall anything about.
Set in Romania, the film follows a Roman Catholic priest and a nun-in-training as they look to inquire information about a nun that has committed suicide. The film is a period-piece set in 1952 and stars Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, and Jonas Bloquet. Something interesting of note is that Taissa Farmiga is the daughter of Vanessa Farmiga, star actress from The Conjuring film series.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of supernatural films related to exorcisms or ghost-related subject-matter. I think this goes back to the Paranormal Activity films and films like Annabelle which arguably depend too heavily on cheap scares and dated parlor tricks.
In the horror genre, it’s commonly accepted that what goes unseen in a film can often be scarier than what is shown. This is a method of thinking I believe has been exploited over the years. If you have a good idea for a film and have enough talent to bring that idea to fruition, it will usually amount to a good film, but what I think is done a lot with the horror genre is the recycling of old, dated horror tropes and ideas. If a film has a low-budget, it usually exploits this mind-set, however, there’s a fine-line between slow-burn and having a gun that’s firing blanks.
The Nun isn’t absolved of sin, but, something worth commending about the film is that it does deliver some imagery and ideas I think are worthy of acknowledgement. The scares aren’t that of a horror maestro, but I did walk away from the film thinking that some unique ideas and creative uses of the environment made their way into the film, and that can often be a rarity in mainstream horror.
The film has received fair-criticism on account of its use of jump-scares, but I found them tamer than the worst of the genre and am thankful they at least had some ideas hand-in-hand with the jump-scares. Some of the ideas can be easy to telegraph. In one scene, it shows bells dangling by strings near tombstones, a feature added for when persons are mistakenly pronounced dead. Just mentioning the fact they acknowledge such a detail is enough to predict what’s likely to happen next. Even if you can predict its best moments beat-by-beat, I will say they’re cool ideas and the film does try and add some unique flavor to them.
The actors in this film are commendable and solid through and through. Whereas The Conjuring’s premiere spin-off Annabelle featured actors that, in my opinion, could be referred to as cookie-cutter, this film has actors more on-par with the main-series. Demian Bichir delivers strongly as the front-and-center everyman and Taissa Farmiga isn’t a slouch either. One or more of the lines in the film might have been hokier than I would’ve liked, especially as a line of dialogue from Jonas Bloquet later in the film, where I feel like they undermined The Nun with a tonally inconsistent comedic line, but I would consider it decent overall.
They are complimented, as well, by nicely created set-pieces, which depict familiar imagery, but do so very well. The music, lighting, and cinematography, through and through, I would say are all very solid technique from individuals very skilled and knowledgeable of the craft. The film doesn’t feel like it held-out and felt like it had an actual vision for what it wanted to accomplish.
Granted, what it wanted to accomplish wasn’t fully unique or innovate, but it does capture an atmosphere and identity. And even if that identity isn’t necessarily distinguishable, at least we can say that it was realized. Cemeteries with large, white wooden crosses may always look beautiful in the night. But you can only see a preacher spouting jargons to vanquish the evil so many times before it starts to feel played out (I’m thinking sometime in the 80s).
The most unfortunate aspect about The Nun, however, and why I think it has received the negative reviews it has, is because it never really develops a strong-narrative for its central conflict, failing to lure us in through its antagonist. Not only that, but it fails to provide any biting development for its ready-to-go cast.
The film succeeds more as a treatment of a horror film than it does as an actual horror film. It has the talented cast, and they even deliver solid performances, but they’re not given engaging dialogue to work with. They have the atmosphere and the set-pieces, but The Nun isn’t able to engage as the antagonist.
I don’t think The Nun necessarily deserves the damning response it has received, and I do think it’s head-and-shoulders better than the first Annabelle, in-fact, I think it’s on-par with Annabelle: Creation, but I think it has problems that keep it far-short from sainthood. It’s an above-average 6 out of 10 horror film, but doesn’t particularly warrant a recommendation beyond Conjuring fans.