Since its debut in 2013, The Conjuring has grown beyond stand-alone status into a fully realized cinematic universe, all fueled by the real-life investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The newest entry in this gathering of demons and ghouls is Valak, the hell-spawned nun first seen terrorizing the Warren’s home in The Conjuring 2. Director Colin Hardy takes the viewer back to the source of the demon’s power in the newest Conjuring-related film. However, the interpersonal relationships and horrific imagery of the source films have unfortunately been stripped away, leaving a carnival ride that fans of the horror genre have ridden a few too many times before.
Upon hearing of a suspicious suicide at the Abbey of St. Carta, the Vatican dispatches paranormal investigator Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to the Romanian countryside. Upon their arrival at the Abbey, the pair, along with French Canadian farmer “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet), confront and attempt to overcome Valak’s evil influence.
Despite providing an imposing, Hammer Films-esque haunted house and vague glimpses of the dark history of the Abbey, the film chooses to provide a minimum amount of world building. After all, the filmmakers have viewers to scare! However, the scares here mostly fall flat, as the viewer is rarely exposed to anything truly terrifying.
The old standbys are all here: unseen forces inverting crosses, undead beings lurking around the corner, and mysterious pairs of hands reaching out from the dark-all accompanied by a shrieking violin or loud otherworldly thump. Look, a jump scare is an effective way to get a reaction from the viewer, but so is any unexpected loud noise. The most iconic films of the horror genre invade the mind of the viewer, implanting imagery and a sense of unease that lasts long after the lights go up in the theater. Unfortunately, The Nun provides very little in the way of true nightmare fuel. Instead, the film relies on recycled cliches and involuntary nervous system responses to illicit cheap reactions from its viewers. Some imagery may have felt transgressive at an earlier time but feels tired in 2018.
The quickly established characters of Burke and Irene, both possessing hints of a troubled past, ultimately serve as little more than engines to move the barebones plot forward. The dialogue between the two consists mainly of heavy exposition punctuated by screaming. The duo constantly separate, dragging the audience from scare to scare until finally reuniting with Frenchie and Valak for the film’s welcomed ending.
Credit should be given to Farmiga, who injects some level of humanity into her character. Nonetheless, the film gives the viewer little reason to care about the fate of its inhabitants. Bichir’s portrayal of Father Burke is relegated to a confused facial expression and the desire to run towards any strange sight or otherworldly sound the film throws at him. The campers at Camp Crystal Lake had more sense than the Vatican’s top “Miracle Hunter” has in this film.
It could be argued that the traditional imagery and lack of characterization is itself an homage to the B-movies of old. After all, weak characterization in horror films isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, and lord knows film buffs have seen their fair share of haunted houses/castles/hotels/etc, but The Nun doesn’t fully commit to B-Movie status. Instead, it floats somewhere between Hollywood blockbuster and midnight trash. If the filmmakers chose to lean further toward one of the two extremes, it may have resulted in a better product. However, the lack of commitment here hurts more than helps.
Save your money for the Warren’s next official adventure, and leave The Nun alone.