Hassan Sherif takes on the Conjuring franchise’s newest supernatural horror origin story.
The Conjuring Universe shows little sign of ending its welcomed expansion, with The Nun becoming the fifth instalment in the horror franchise that, despite fluctuating critical response, has proved to be a six-year box-office big hitter. The series’ non-linear chronology allows for a developing thread of stories, resulting so far in ‘cases’ that range over thirty-ish years, based on the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The newest venture, under the direction of Corin Hardy with a story from Conjuring director James Wan, is the first not to be set in the United States or England, instead sidestepping away to 1952 Romania – specifically the Carta Monastery (which bears no resemblance to the real one). Not a surprise, since this film itself bears little resemblance to the series from which it is born. The rushed production has resulted in a cocktail of frustrating clichés and jump scares, a mile away from the paralysing suspense that elevated the original film above many horrors of recent years. Considering that the real Carta Monastery is located in Transylvania, there’s no doubt the producers took one look at the infamous location and thought they’d steal the name for typical contextual effect. This is indicative of many of The Nun’s unashamed genre clichés that plague what could have been an iconic instalment in an already memorable collection.
For instance, the demon nun herself had slapped so much terror into The Conjuring 2 that when news of her own spin-off was announced, fans braced themselves for what was promised to be an unforgettably nightmarish adventure. Instead, she is reduced to a pantomime villain-slash-showman who is incapable of pulling off anything other than silly, non-fatal pranks on our three protagonists. It feels less like a dangerous investigation ordered by the Vatican itself and more like an angry episode of Scooby-Doo.
Meanwhile, this hapless trio of priest Father Burke (Demián Bichir), young Catholic novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and workman Maurice ‘Frenchie’ Theriault (Jonas Bloquet) find themselves exploring the dark happenings of the monastery following the apparent suicide of one of its sisters. In fairness to them, and to the ensemble of nuns who feature heavily in the narrative’s relatively redeeming climax, the film’s performances are by far the strongest thing about it. The dark atmosphere is largely maintained due to their visceral portrayals of fear, but it is less helped by Hardy’s exaggerated emphasis on a light versus dark motif. Whilst the opening fifteen or so minutes balance the terror of the monastery with the relief of the outside world, the constant flitting between light and dark provides a clear formula which signals to the audience when they should brace themselves for a scare, eliminating much of the suspense on offer. One in five of these jumps might perhaps result in a slight gasp, but there’s no memorable or grippingly frightening sequences, such as The Conjuring’s hand clap, or Annabelle: Creation’s hand snap.
The actors’ battles with a poor script distracts from the actual battle playing out before us. Awful one-liners reduce the leads to caricatures – particularly Frenchie, who, thanks to Gary Dauberman’s writing, carries out a weird few minutes of predatory flirting literally within two seconds of being introduced to Sister Irene, in one of the most disturbing sequences in the film. Thankfully, the natural likeability of the actors, who each give enough effort to hint at a complexity beneath their half-hearted yet melodramatic dialogue, gifts their characters a certain realism which also blessed the original Conjuring cast. All performances, even the nuns who follow a daily routine of freak out – pray – repeat, are the strong links holding together a plot threatened by an odd rhythm to the sequence of events and by a few dramatic revelations which the audience assumed were obvious from the beginning.
The predictable genre screenplay overshadows a decent atmosphere and set of performances, green-lighting a very tired portrayal of the haunting that started it all (at least so far). It’s below par, but not a disaster, if we accept that Hardy’s very average offering has produced a fun, dumb horror movie, rather than a serious effort to match the standards of the series. In short, it won’t leave you looking over your shoulder, but you won’t be asking for your money back.
The Nun is currently released in UK cinemas. Check out its trailer below: