A creaky convent horror in desperate need of absolution, The Nun is the latest in Warner Brothers’ credibility-stretching attempts to hoover up audience good will for The Conjuring.
Over two central films the franchise has become an accidental financial juggernaut for WB, its relatively straightforward scares crafted with confident professionalism by director James Wan, who has an eye for tension, and boosted by the amiable chemistry of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as betrothed Ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Conjuring 2 was especially solid, distinguished by an 1980s red brick terrace atmosphere. Its weakest moments were when it went full frontal with the scares, like the computer-generated Crooked Man. The Nun takes the wrong lesson, ditching atmosphere and personality entirely, and doubling down on the full frontal.
The result: holy, shit.
For anyone who saw the black-gummed nun in Vera Farmigo’s painting and thought ‘I want a whole movie about her!’, The Nun fills in the blanks with an awkward, laborious Gothic back story. Gary Dauberman, who wrote previous spin-offs Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation (they made two?), is on script detail. Wan is busy with the fishes, so the curse passes to English film-maker Corin Hardy, who shot 2015’s The Hallow in Irish foliage, and casts our own Michael Smiley again. Smiley plays a Vatican official named “Bishop Pasquale”. After which the film gets less credible.
Set in 1950s
Transylvania– Romania, The Nun takes place at a secluded convent, framed in castle-spire overheads, which looms over simple, superstitious villagers, who fret in the pub about failed crops and strange deaths. After one of the sisters is discovered dangling in a noose, the Vatican dispatches “troubled priest” Father Burke (Demián Bichir), whose primary trouble seems to be delivering his lines, and nun-in-training newbie Sister Irene (American Horror Story’s Taissa Farmiga). The two are assisted by native scalleywag ‘Frenchie’ (Jonas Bloquet), who provides local colour, inappropriate flirting and incongruous sidekick quips. Frenchie is hilarious in exactly the opposite way intended.
In a film full of cheap jump scares, the most shocking thing is Dauberman’s script, a disorganised mangle of exposition about relics and portals and supernatural do-hicketies, and wildly redundant dialogue. A character will pick up a key and say ‘it’s a key!’, even when the audience can see that, yes indeed, it is obviously a key. The Nun is the hoariest, hokiest multiplex horror in quite a while, the basic bitch of studio frighteners.
Burke and Irene have barely unpacked their suitcases when the freaky shenanigans begin. If you just couldn’t get enough of all those rotating crosses studio horrors have been throwing at us, then this is the movie for you. There are so many crosses. And mist, and vestment ghouls, and zombie nuns, and all the possession and exorcism tropes we’re numb to by now. It’s so cheap. It’s like a Conjuringverse ghost train at Barry’s Amusements.
Honestly. Having nun of it. Conor Smyth
The Nun is out on wide release.