The Nun

2018-09-07 08:29


When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together, they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives, but their faith and their eternal souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that terrorised the world previously.


Building on the groundwork laid by 2010’s Insidious, the original Conjuring film cemented the return to more traditional horror after years of increasingly ghastly “torture-porn” and found-footage drew the entire genre (or at least the Hollywood version of it) deeper and deeper into the mud. It may not have ranked right up there with the very best horror films ever but it was a genuinely solid supernatural-chiller that aimed for scares rather than the then-fashionable mix of nausea-inducing camera work and the increasingly tiresome reliance on gore and having the audience sit through hours of watching fictional characters being tortured for their viewing “pleasure”. 

Unfortunately, that very real breath of fresh air quickly grew stale – though, to be honest, more from other films aping its quite-quite-BANG methodology than from its direct sequel or even (so I’m told – they somehow passed me by) the two Annabelle spinoff films – and it has taken this year’s double-punch of A Quiet Place and Hereditary to once again shock the genre back to life, albeit in completely different ways. It’s tempting, then, to simply write off the thudding failure of The Nun as a result of its hanging onto the coattails of a tired take on the horror genre or for arriving in the shadow of two such incredible horror movies (to say nothing of similarly great recent horror entries like ‘80s throwback, It, and the somewhat difficult to categorise, Get Out) but, nah, The Nun sucks purely on its own terms.

The Nun is terrible in a way that only the most aggressively mediocre films can be. I mean, yes, it has obviously “bad” aspects in the sense that some of the dialogue is really atrocious and it is very poorly paced throughout, but it’s the fact that every inch of this film feels like a half-assed (if that) cash-in with no effort or creativity going into it at all, that takes it from being merely weak to something truly cynical and depressing.  

Every single aspect of the film looks like it was approached with the absolute minimum amount of effort possible. The plot is both very slight (a colleague of mine remarked that the film clearly had no more than forty pages of script; I think he was being charitable) and almost entirely nonsensical. The characterisation is – well, what characterisation? Damian Bachir, Jonas Bloquet and the half dozen or so nameless nuns are given less than nothing to work with, making almost no impression whatsoever, while Farmiga’s Sister Irene ends up in a role that is entirely symptomatic of what’s wrong with the film.

Sister Irene, you see, is played by Taissa Farmiga, the much younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who played the Conjuring films’ chief protagonist, Lorraine Warren. Now, if you happen to not remember the name of Vera’s character in the original film, you would be forgiven for thinking that Taissa is playing a younger version of the same character. Especially, what with both characters having identical psychic powers and, you know, Taissa looking exactly like a younger version of her sister! The film even further suggests that they are one and the same in the final scene of the film that links The Nun to the first Conjuring film. I was so utterly convinced that they were playing the same character, in fact, that I had to rewrite a good portion of this review, including the plot synopsis, after I noticed while researching the film that the two characters have completely different names and are in fact completely unrelated!

With this total lack of attention to detail (and, as details go, this one is really rather important), it’s hardly surprising to see just how little care is put into the film’s paint-by-numbers approach to horror. It’s like writer Gary Dauberman (working off a “story” he developed with James Wan) and director Corin Hardy watched a bunch of horror films from the past few years, vaguely noted what was (at least theoretically) scary about them and opted to fill their films with broad approximations of what are already, in their purest forms, well-worn clichés.

Other horror films, for example, rely on creepy atmosphere so The Nun tries to ape that with a dull colour pallet and a generically creepy looking old building and the results are predictably dreary rather than chilling. Other horror films of this ilk like to build up jump scares with quiet moments of tension, The Nun instead telegraphs its jump (non) scares through its quiet moments. The score, too, feels like more of a parody of modern horror scores than a horror score in and of itself. And then there’s the titular demonic nun who does much the same thing here, if a bit more, but where she/it was genuinely pretty scary before, she/it more than wears out its increasingly annoying presence well before the end of the film.

Even at a brief 94-minutes, The Nun is a punishingly boring waste of time and money that should be the final nail in the coffin of this increasingly rotten film series but with the Conjuring 3, they look set to drive what was once horror’s great new hope further and further into the ground.

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