The Nun and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Corin Hardy
I wasn’t even planning on seeing this film as my utter apathy to the Conjuring Universe knows no bounds; despite Annabelle: Creation being a pretty solid horror film which I ascribe entirely to roping in a very talented director. Then the weekend came up and there was literally no other movie I was going to see, so this one won by default; take a step forward to volunteer and everyone else took a step back. Does this latest entry in probably my least favorite expanded universe (at least on a conceptual level as The Warrens were in fact a bunch of fraudsters and I HATE that we’re making movies that pretend they weren’t) manage to rise above its lousy origins to give us something entertaining, or will I be forced to be reminded once again why I didn’t like that initial film in the first place? Let’s find out!!
Back in the 1950s, there was a castle in Romania where some spooky stuff was always going on. What kind of spooky stuff? Voices in the hallway, a fake demon nun appearing and disappearing in an instant, and oh yeah, A NUN THROWING HERSELF OUT OF A WINDOW WITH A NOOSE AROUND HER NECK!! Now my first guess it that she did it all for Damian but he wouldn’t be born for another twenty years, and instead it’s probably that demon nun that’s walking around the place. In The Vatican’s effort to be real life Ghostbusters, they send the disgraced Father Burke (Demián Bichir) out to solve this bizarre mystery; like a renegade cop getting his badge and his gun back. He takes along a Soon To Be Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) because… I don’t remember; she has psychic powers or something? Anyway, the two of them head to Romania and are led to the castle by the man who discovered the nun’s body, and his name is… wait for it… Frenchie (Jona Bloquet). When this unlikely trio gets there, well you can imagine what happens! Lots of spooky ghost tricks, hidden dark rituals, and a horrifying history that will no doubt ensure at least a dozen more THE CONJURING UNIVERSE films! Can Father Burke and Sorta Sister Irene discover the true reason that the nun threw herself out a window in this dark and spooky castle? When they find what they are looking for, are they prepared to do what is necessary to stop that evil once and for all? Wait, why does a demon have to hide as a nun? It’s not like it does a good job of hiding how obviously evil they are and they can disappear at any time, so why even bother with the costume!?
Looking at this as simply a horror film, it really doesn’t amount to much, but if you look at it more like an ADVENTURE film or the subset of horror that gave us the Hammer horror franchises, the Harvey Corman Edgar Allen Poe movies, and to a certain extent the most recent Mummy movie. At no point was I ever actually scared or even startled in this movie as the shtick they’re going for feels pretty played out at this point, but it does manage to have a lot of impressively creative moments and a few genuine laughs here and there that made me wish the movie had focused more on THAT than trying to freak you out with jump scares and dark hallways. It’s always been KIND of the point of those Conjuring movies to be about supposed “professionals” (ugh…) trying to find ghosts rather than hapless nobodies who have no idea what to do, and I think that general premise works incredibly well here even if the movie sadly never really finds the right balance between trying to be scary and having fun with the setup.
[THENUNCD2 – “Dang it! We took the wrong turn and ended up at Dracula’s Castle.” “Dracula? Well shouldn’t we take care of him since we’re here already?” “Nah, this is Belmont’s gig, and you do NOT want to get on his bad side.”]
What ultimately work best about this movie are the castle itself and the general premise of the movie that takes pretty decent advantage of that setting. Sadly it’s not as enthralling to explore as something like Crimson Peak, but the fact that we’re watching a movie with stone hallways, underground crypts and libraries full of demon books lends a lot to what could have been a far more underwhelming experience (*cough* Winchester *cough*). There’s genuine creativity on display with some of the supposed scares like a trick with a shadow and a mirror which make the movie interesting to watch even if it’s not all that scary. The third act in particular is pretty fantastic as it more or less drops all pretense of being a horror film and starts resembling something like a third rate Indiana Jones with torches, ghostly traps, and religious artifacts, and they even manage to put in a fight scene which is about as good a way as I can think of to end it! It may be a bit tedious in the first half as its still TRYING to be a horror film, but when it lets go of any inhibitions is the point where it starts to feel like it has its own identity and we can see a glimpse into what this movie could have been if they realized what direction it should have gone in.
The characters are where things start to drag on a bit though as no one really stands out all that much when this really should be the kind of movie for a genre favorite character actor to sink his teeth into. I can just picture it now; Christopher Lambert as the priest (the actor they got basically has that same growly voice) and… Aubrey Plaza as the good nun? Okay, it doesn’t have to be THAT extreme and it’s not like the actors do a BAD job in this, but it just screams for something a bit more from the two of them than what we get. Demián Bichir is a burnt out priest who drinks away his misery, but I felt like we should have gotten MORE of that as his whole RENEGADE PRIEST thing never really comes across as much as they try to sell you on in the early scenes of the movie. I couldn’t even tell if his tragic back story made any sense or why he should feel any more guilty than anyone else about what happened (even if he didn’t succeed in what he was doing, he still CLEARLY made the right call where The Vatican didn’t). Taissa Farmiga doesn’t feel as underutilized as the priest, but it’s still a rather straightforward performance for a straightforward role. She certainly has her moments to shine, especially in the third act, but like with Demián Bichir I wish they had done more with the characterization that was built up at first; mainly her having difficulty falling in line with every aspect of the way The Church runs and outright undermining her superiors; all for good reasons of course as SCIENCE shouldn’t be anathema to God’s teachings, though I get the feeling that the belief that the Earth is five thousand years old is a more recent phenomenon and one not really held by the ACTUAL Catholic Church but almost exclusively by crappy evangelical groups in the US.
The biggest problem with the movie though is the same problem that all of these movies have; namely the villain. I’ve made it clear before that I just simply don’t get the appeal of ghosts in movies when they’re done as blandly as this. The biggest problem is that ghosts almost never have any personality to them, and you need SOMETHING to grab onto if the villain is supposed to feel anything other than arbitrary. This is the problem that Slender Man ran into as he was an utter blank slate of a character whose mythology was criminally undefined, and why something like Ouija: Origin of Evil worked as well as it did because the ghosts had clear motives and were invested in seeing their plans through. What’s most disheartening about this movie though is that for a BRIEF moment, they actually managed to give this ghost a moment of character. There’s a scene where a character is knocked into an open grave by some ghostly vision, and we pan up to see that the tombstone has their name on it. It’s hilarious that the ghost prepared that for the guy and it’s practical because it’s a pretty darn good way of getting rid of someone who could pose a threat! It doesn’t SOLVE the problem of the ghost still being rather hands off when they have a VERY clear goal in mind, but when I saw that tombstone and realized the predicament that character was in, it didn’t matter! I felt like something of significance had happened because a CHARACTER took action against our heroes instead of some vague and undefined force of evil or whatever. After that the movie just kind of spins its wheels in regards to THE NUN itself because it’s never really clear to me what it wants other than to be a jerk, but that third act REALLY picks things up even if the villain is at best a one dimensional cliché. At least they’re finally DOING something!
Honestly, this isn’t a film I particularly recommend and wouldn’t have even bothered with if the stars hadn’t aligned for me to see it. It’s certainly a bit better than I was expecting due to how much mileage they get out of the setting, but it still feels like a lot of potential was wasted and it doesn’t do enough to separate itself from any mid-range horror film that we get more than enough of each year. Annabelle: Creation was better so go check that out if you haven’t seen it, but I still recommended it more than The Conjuring which is just awful. Speaking of which, are we done yet? Have we gone through all the Warren’s made up “cases”, or are we just gonna start inventing new ones to keep the brand alive? I mean if we HAVE to go down that route, we might as well start doing some crossovers! Ed and Lorraine VS Freddy and Jason! I know who I’LL be rooting for!!