Since the Conjuring series of films began with the first entry in 2013, the R-rated horror franchise has summoned supernatural scares that have translated to hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office. The Conjuring generated the spin-off Annabelle about a creepy possessed doll and The Conjuring 2 has now led to another spin-off called The Nun, spelling out the backstory for the Valak character that was introduced in that film.
Like the rest of its companions in the Conjuring Universe, this film relies heavily on jump scares with jarring audio cues, but it lacks an engaging story or any involving characters to make this prequel journey worth taking.
After a nun is found dead after apparently taking her own life outside a Romanian monastery, The Vatican tasks Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) with investigating the incident. There, they meet “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), the man who discovered the nun’s body while delivering supplies to the abbey, who aides them in their examination. As the trio spends more time on the premises, they begin to witness supernatural sightings and seem to be haunted continuously by evil spirits that tie back to a demonic entity known as Valak, who is usually held in check by constant prayer from the nuns, but has seemingly grown more powerful.
The issues with The Nun start fairly early on, as the first scenes of the spooky Nun character set up the general pace and timbre of the rest of the scares and, frankly, it’s nothing that we haven’t seen done better countless times before. It leans into religious iconography like upside-down crosses and ominous headstones in ways that scores of other horror films (The Exorcist series, for one) have all invoked in more creative ways.
All of the visual clichés are firmly in place as well, like the close-up/pan to an empty area/pan back to close-up with scary figure behind main character sequence, but they’re brought down even further by a murky visual palette that makes for an especially drab viewing experience.
Some of these rote horror movie beats might be worth forgiving if there were other redeemable aspects to the film, but the terribly thin script doesn’t allow for any sort of intrigue in the story or any interest for the characters. Even though this would seem to be an explanation of how the Valak creature came to be, the film gives very little in terms of details on the origins of this nefarious being, and the answers that we’re given are perfunctory at best.
It’s also extremely inconsistent about the actual powers of this spirit, who is shown early on to be powerful enough to bury someone alive in the blink of an eye, but then is almost comically under-powered the rest of the film as it conjures up hands to grab at the protagonists.
The first two Conjuring films have been aided greatly by the effortless chemistry between leads Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, but this trio of actors, including Vera’s younger sister Taissa, doesn’t have the same kind of spark to make their characters engaging from the get-go. While they aren’t able to make much happen together on-screen, I’d hardly say it’s their fault as the three are saddled with shamefully underwritten roles that do them no justice.
The Nun may have enough frights in it for fans of the series to find it worth watching, but I have to imagine that most moviegoers won’t find nearly enough for the film to justify its existence outside of being another payday for Warner Bros. in this lucrative franchise.
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