Movie Review: “The Nun” – Nun? Yes. Fun? No.

Written by Jeremiah Greville September 13, 2018

The Nun

This is a tough one, folks. The Conjuring universe has been a rare treat, and the most mainstream example of our current horror renaissance. Three of the first four films in the inter-connected Conjuring universe (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, Annabelle, & Annabelle: Creation) are standout flicks regardless of genre. Unfortunately, The Nun, the fifth film in the series, now joins Annabelle in the crap pile. Is it as bad as Annabelle? No, not by a long shot. There are bits to enjoy with The Nun, but not enough to count it among the other, better films in the series. The Nun isn’t a horrible film, but it’s not great either. It always swings for the fences, and funny enough, that’s both the best and worst thing about it.

The Nun is set in 1952 and stars Taissa Farmiga and Demian Bichir as a pair dispatched by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a nun in Romania. Aided by a local worker named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they’re forced to combat an ancient evil before all is lost. By now, you can already guess that the evil takes the shape of…a nun. Yeah, it’s kind of in the name. The Nun is a direct spin-off of The Conjuring 2, but doesn’t require any previous knowledge going in. It’s a spooky horror film drenched in shadow and catholic imagery, but without any of the uncomfortable religious baggage. It’s a half-burned bag of microwaved popcorn, but it’s still edible. You’re better served with the movie stuff, but it’ll do in a pinch.

“Have faith, sister.”

One spoiler that’s not really a spoiler going in: there’s no established link in this film between Taissa Farmiga and her sister, Vera. For the uninitiated: Vera Farmiga stars in The Conjuring 1 & 2 as Lorraine Warren, and is the real-life sister of Taissa, the star of The Nun. Many have speculated that the two characters would be linked somehow, but if that’s the case, it doesn’t happen here. Perhaps in a sequel, if this film actually gets one. The only connective tissue to the larger Conjuring universe is at the end of the film, and it’s really more of a footnote than anything. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, since The Nun doesn’t really taint anything that came before.

The Nun

But standing on its own, The Nun is a strange beast. The characters are bland to the point that calling them one-dimensional seems overly kind. The plot isn’t just skeletal or bare-bones, it’s a thin thread tied to the end a deflating balloon slowly losing altitude and making a funny farting sound as it does. But hanging from that thread? Holy shit, a whole lotta crazy. The Nun starts with some of its strongest bits first, stuffing gags into the first act that would be at home in the third act of lesser horror films. And it just goes from there. Some movies hit the ground running. The Nun hits the ground and starts burrowing through the centre of the Earth, never losing speed. You have to stop and admire it at times, even if the end result never rises over six feet under.

“Don’t stop praying.”

Okay, admittedly there was a lot of awkward metaphor there, but I’m very serious: The Nun is an insanely ambitious film. Director Corin Hardy proves that if you take a haunted monastery and add a world-weary priest, a wide-eyed good witch, and a pouty French-Canadian sex doll, you can wring out a lot of movie. Not all of it makes sense—very little, in hindsight—but it’s all there, and kudos to them. I’m not joking when I say there’s a montage sequence that looks like the Holy Roman equivalent of Lord of the Rings, right down to Catholic Gandalf. It’s nuts. This movie is nuts. But that wild ambition isn’t chained to anything resembling structure or logic. Hand any kid a crayon and they can think up some zany shit. Adults, however, know to filter imagination through storytelling technique. At least they’re supposed to.

The Nun

And this where The Nun falters. Some movies can work on dream-scape rules, but only if they establish those rules early on. Yes, even ‘no rules’ is a rule. The audience needs to know where they stand going in so that if you pull the rug out from under them, they feel it. That doesn’t happen here. In the desperate attempt to push forward to the next jump-scare, The Nun stops trying to justify itself altogether. It’s a film more concerned with its canon than its narrative. Don’t tell me the history and motivation of the demon if you’re not going to explain the same for the characters. Because of this, it’s hard to feel any lingering fear. The jump-scares might delight many horror fans in the moment, but the lack of internal logic means they won’t stay with you.

“What’s the opposite of a miracle, Father?”

The actors are all fine, but none of them are noteworthy. I stopped following their names early on, and you probably will to. I don’t know if Taissa Farmiga actually blinked at all during the film, but her perpetual wide-eyed stare made it seem like she needed to. Jonas Bloquet adds the slightest bit of brevity to the proceedings but is there mostly as a sexy romantic interest to Farmiga. The few funny lines he does get fall entirely flat. Bonnie Aarons is menacing as the titular demonic nun, but her face is often obscured, so you don’t get the full range of her performance. Meanwhile, Demian Bichir is the same old devout demon-hunting priest you’ve seen a million times before. Nothing here is new.

The Nun

The Nun isn’t awful, but I can’t say for sure if you’ll have a good time with it. It’s not good enough for me to recommend, and not scary enough to overcome its flaws. I have to give the filmmakers credit for their ambition, but ambition alone doesn’t cut it. Audiences deserve better. There are other horror films out there, and unfortunately for The Nun, these days many of them are quite good. If you still want to see it in theatres, temper your expectations. It might be best instead to wait for the eventual Blu-ray or Netflix release. The Nun comes with a strong brand pedigree but doesn’t live up the legacy of those before it. Sometimes, the best way to avoid bad places is to never visit them at all. Perhaps, pass this haunted house by.

My Rating: 5.5/10

The Nun - Poster

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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