The success of James Wan’s The Conjuring back in 2013 was a major factor in reminding studios of the market for classic supernatural horrors, and with a sequel and three spin-offs it’s clear that New Line Cinemas is trying to get as much out of this bankable franchise as possible. Unfortunately, if The Nun is any indication, this is another horror series that’s fast running out of ideas and in danger of containing more bad films than good ones.
After two spin-offs focusing on The Conjuring’s creepy Annabelle doll The Nun instead turns to the antagonist from The Conjuring 2, a demonic figure that prefers to present itself in a mockingly warped version of the classic hooded nun. While this spectre had some admittedly creepy moments in The Conjuring 2, it doesn’t really have any new tricks on display here – spending most of its screen time standing at the end of hallways, floating ominously towards the camera, or roaring at nothing in particular. Horror movie antagonists can usually get by with little more than the occasional creepy appearance provided that the scares are good and the story is interesting, but both these qualities are lacking here.
In a Romanian monastery the attempts of two nuns to stop the demonic influence slowly spreading through the area ends with one killed by the creature and the other committing suicide to prevent it from possessing her. In response, the Vatican sends Father Burke, a cynical priest and one of the few capable in performing exorcisms, and initiate nun Sister Irene to investigate whether or not the ground of the monastery is still holy and determine what motivated the suicide of Sister Victoria (Charlotte Hope). To get there they rely on help from ‘Frenchie’, a French-Canadian living in the area that delivers food to the monastery and discovered Sister Irene’s body. When they arrive at the monastery the already slow-moving plot grinds to almost a complete stop as they are forced to wait around while occasionally seeing glimpses of the other inhabitants and moving from jump-scare to jump-scare. There’s no narrative tension or sense of urgency, and things only really start to pick up in the last twenty minutes as director Corin Hardy rushes through a loud and sometimes laughable conclusion to reach for an ending that can vaguely link this story to the Warren family from the main series. The main cast provided little to draw me in any further, with Demián Bichir imbuing Father Burke with minimal characterisation beyond an impressive scowl and raspy voice while Taissa Farmiga goes the opposite direction with a wide-eyed earnestness that never really makes Sister Irene’s reactions to anything seem real. Jonas Bloquet is more enjoyable as the shotgun-swinging womaniser Frenchie, but his character feels more like he’s stepped out of Brendan Fraiser’s Mummy series than the dark and demonic world of the Conjuring films – particularly as any tension the film may build is immediately lost when a character cries out for ‘Frenchie’.
There are a few decent ideas for scary moments in The Nun, aided by the gorgeous production design of the Romanian monastery setting, but the execution regularly falls flat as Gary Dauberman’s script moves from one to the other with nothing linking them. The characters repeatedly end up separated due to someone seeing something in the distance and blindly wandering off after it, and even before the credits had finished rolling I’d found myself forgetting what had happened in certain scenes due to how sloppily the film jumps between the characters in its attempt to deliver three scares at once. Bonnie Aarons as the titular Nun does have a suitably creepy presence, and there’s plenty of religious imagery and practices for Hardy to turn sinister, but those who were impressed by the character in her first appearance would probably have a better time re-watching The Conjuring 2.
1 and a half stars.