“The Nun” marks the fifth film in the Conjuring ‘universe’ and the third backstory spin-off. “The Conjuring” and its direct sequel remain two of my favorite horror films of the last several years. The first spin-off was the dull mess-of-a-movie “Annabelle”. The prequel to “Annabelle” was a good step in the right direction.
That brings us back to “The Nun”, an installment with clear connections to the franchise that are actually cooler and more clever than the movie itself. What do I mean by that? The film’s links to “The Conjuring 2” are surprising and clever. But as a movie, “The Nun” fails to make the most of those connections. And despite putting some interesting pieces into place, it ends up suffering due to unremarkable storytelling that consistently milks the same handful of horror tricks.
Things start out promising. In 1952 at a remote mountain abbey in Romania a nun hangs herself. The Vatican gets word of the tragedy and sends a tortured priest (Demián Bichir) who specializes in ‘miracle hunting’ to investigate. He is accompanied by a young novitiate (Taissa Farmiga in a nifty bit of casting). The two are guided to the abbey by the French farmer (Jonas Bloquet) who discovered the nun’s body. As you can probably guess they discover a devilish presence in the black heart of the abbey. It’s Valak, the demon nun introduced in “The Conjuring 2”.
The film is directed by relative newcomer Corin Hardy and written by Gary Dauberman, writer of the previous two “Annabelle” pictures. They have no problem developing their haunting setting and creating a ton of atmosphere. The gothic abbey with its long stone hallways, deep shadowy corners, and overactive fog machine offers up a spooky old-fashioned horror environment.
But then you get to the storytelling which slowly sucks out the film’s potential. There is an unnerving story here but it is never allowed to play out. Instead we get most of it through clumsy dumps of exposition. Also, the film doesn’t lean on the Valak character as much as it should. She/It isn’t really let loose until the final 15 minutes which is a little too late. Instead the bulk of the scares are tried-and-not-so-true horror gadgetry that we’ve seen many times before. And how many times can you show a shadowy silhouette of a nun doing creepy things in the background before it loses its effect?
So “The Nun” qualifies as a dissapointment for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a fan of James Wan’s unorthodox horror universe but this film doesn’t offer a particularly good new installment. Second, because the pieces are here for a fun classic-styled horror picture but the filmmakers never put those pieces together in a satisfying way. The story ideas, the cool connections to the main Conjuring films, and a genuinely frightening antagonist should have been enough for a good franchise entry.
VERDICT – 2.5 STARS