The Nun: Vowing to Scare in the Conjuring Universe
by Jaime Burchardt
Never mind any talk about the evolution of the Conjuring franchise...I’m just floored that we even have a Conjuring franchise! And I mean that in the best sense. Director and producer James Wan took the real-life story of the Warrens (the paranormal warriors/fakers depending on who you ask) and morphed it to his own built-in cinematic universe. I know the talk of studios wanting a bunch of shared universes fall around the same level of exhaustion, but credit has to be given to this one: the foundation was anything but cinematic. This was built from the ground up with a horror classic, a worthy sequel, and spin offs that carry their own strengths.
The Nun follows that same path...for the most part.
Taking place in the hidden realms of Romania, a lovable local named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) goes about his job delivering food and goods to the local convent when he comes across a haunting image: a nun hanging from a noose. The Vatican is hesitant to rule it a suicide, so they send Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a priest with a dark past, on the quest to get the official ruling. He’s put off when the higher ups also request a novice, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), join him. She’s considered special, though they won’t tell him why (especially since she’s have yet to take her vows). Frenchie leads the two strangers of faith to the convent and, well let’s just say they probably should’ve taken a cue from all that fog and all those chucked-up crosses surrounding the place to not keep going...
From that point on, The Nun gives a hell of an effort to be absolutely relentless. The first few minutes set that precedent, and it does it very well. After going through the necessary filler, we’re given one scare set-up after another. Oddly enough, while watching it I couldn’t help but think about the great spoof movies like Airplane!, where the joke factory churns out chuckles and seeing if at least more than half stick. The Nun is definitely a factory conducted by director Corin Hardy (The Hallow). He’s got a book of his favorite tricks and he’s using them one after the other. It’s one way to make a horror film, that’s for sure.
I couldn’t help but feel that Hardy went with this approach to perhaps compensate for the script by Gary Dauberman, who is his own personal factory (both Annabelle films, It, Wolves at the Door). It’s not a bad blueprint, and I’m a sucker for any movie that has its resolution in the final hour at night, but it’s not his best effort. Some of the dialogue, especially, is evident of this. Hardy knows that he has to work with isn’t scripture, but that doesn’t stop his own personal push. And to the credit of both filmmakers, a good chunk of what they throw at us works on varying levels. The scares come from a place of sincerity, and when you have a small-but-powerful cast like this everything is amplified.
Bichir uses his veteran skills to keep his character grounded, even when all hell breaks loose, and Farmiga is just wonderful as a novice finding faith. Between this and The Final Girls, she’s putting up a showcase of truly considerable acting that other filmmakers need to pay attention to (and it’s really just a face-value bonus that she’s the real-life sister of Conjuring MVP Vera Farmiga). Each actor is given their moment, they absolutely nail it, and by the time we get to the finale it doesn’t matter if everything feels familiar: they’re in the shit. And we feel it.
Don’t get me wrong, The Nun isn’t the next classic, and in the Conjuring universe that’s still growing (apparently there’s a third Annabelle moving coming next year), it may not be the most memorable. But when you have a director and a cast that comes to battle and battle hard, it’s always a cause for at least one viewing. Give The Nun a chance.
3.5 out of 5 Stars