I rebuke you, horror movie tropes!
Warner Bros’ Conjuring universe rolls ever onward with its fifth feature-length installment, The Nun, exploring the origins of the titular character first seen in The Conjuring 2. James Wan, who wrote and directed both Conjuring films, helped with the story here but handed directorial duties over to Corin Hardy (The Hallow) to try to expand the overall fiction.
Following the apparent suicide of a nun in a Romanian convent, the Vatican dispatches Father Burke (Demian Bichir; The Hateful Eight) and a young nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga; American Horror Story), to investigate. Upon arriving they meet with Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who found the body while delivering supplies, and convince him to guide them to the castle despite Frenchie’s concerns about the place.
Once on site they’re taken to see the body, which has mysteriously changed position since being placed in cold storage. On her they find a key, though what it unlocks is unknown. Inside they speak to the Abbess, who tells them that they must wait until the following day to speak to the nuns due to them staying silent during the night.
While Frenchie departs and Burke and Irene stay, all three have horrifying and unexplained encounters that night, prompting the Father to surmise there’s a powerful evil present. Work still has to be done, however, and the pair decide to press on with the investigation despite the obvious danger they’re in. Can they unravel the evil behind the goings on in the convent, or will they end up victims of it?
One thing that has always stood out in films from the Conjuring universe is quality acting, a relatively rare thing in the horror genre. That continues here with Bichir, who we loved in The Bridge, heading a solid slate of performances for all three primary characters. Jonas is likable and gets to add what little levity there is, and Taissa ably projects strength, faith and vulnerability at the centre of it all.
Visually, The Nun doesn’t miss a trick. Shooting on site at actual castles gives everything a grounded feel, and there’s plenty of slick work done with lighting and camera angles to build foreboding and maximize tension. The fact that Bonnie Aarons plays the Nun allowed them to minimize CGI as well, adding another level of realism on the visual side.
In most ways, this is the weakest of the five movies set in the Conjuring universe, and that starts with a lack of consistency from the threat they’re facing. One minute it seems like the visions can’t affect people in the real world, then the next they’re being physically assaulted by them. On the flip side, the people seem powerless against said visions, and then suddenly they’re shooting them with a shotgun. There’s no rhyme or reason to why things work or don’t throughout the film.
Along those same lines, it’s unclear how powerful the Nun demon actually is. Are we supposed to think that all of these visions, animated corpses and so on are controlled directly by her? Or is that just “evil” as a catch all? And why is she randomly stalking them rather than just trying to kill them all the time? It doesn’t make any sense.
The Nun also features a much higher reliance on jump scares than the four previous films, and much of it seems to exist purely for those moments. We lost count of how many times they had something menacing in a shot, rotated the camera in some way and then, when it reset, it was gone. It was like the movie was working down a list of horror tropes and checking them off one at a time.
THE BONUS FEATURES
Twelve minutes of deleted scenes rates as the best of The Nun‘s extras. While there’s nothing that we strongly felt should’ve remained in, it’s not throwaway content, either, with scenes that fill in some back story. The most interesting is an extended talk with the nuns in which they fully reveal a critical location, the removal of which changes the closing moments. Featurettes on filming in Romania and the character of the Nun join a Conjuring timeline to round out the offerings.
While perfectly serviceable, The Nun fails to match its predecessors, deploying a paint-by-numbers horror experience that’s unlikely to stay with you after the credits roll.