Monday, September 10, 2018

Movie Review: The Nun

The Nun ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Corin Hardy.
Written by: Gary Dauberman and James Wan.
Starring: Taissa Farmiga (Sister Irene), Demián Bichir (Father Burke), Jonas Bloquet (Frenchie), Bonnie Aarons (Demon Nun), Charlotte Hope (Sister Victoria), Lili Bordán (Marta), Ingrid Bisu (Sister Oana), Sandra Teles (Sister Ruth).
The Nun is the fifth film in The Conjuring series, which actually has a pretty decent track record to date in terms of delivering solid horror films. The two Conjuring films directed by James Wan are both very good – especially the first one, which is one of the best of its kind, and I think I underestimated just how good last year’s Annabelle: Creation was. The first Annabelle movie was probably the weak link in the franchise up to this point – and the sad thing is The Nun probably now takes its place as the weakest entry in the series. Like the other films, the film is atmospheric, relying more on tone and tension than blood and guts to scare the audience – but unlike the best this series has offered, there isn’t much else to it. After the setting has been established, the movie pretty much goes on autopilot, repeating similar scenes again and again – and what’s creepy once just isn’t the third or fourth time you see it. It’s not all bad – I’d like to see Taissa Farmiga back in the series at some point perhaps – but as a standalone horror film, The Nun doesn’t have a lot of recommend it.
The setting is Romania in 1952 – and in a creepy opening sequence, two cloistered Nuns go through a door in their monastery – and the results, well, they aren’t good – leading one of the Nuns to jump out the window with a rope around her neck. She is discovered by a local, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) not long after – the Monastery is out in the middle of a forest, and the locals don’t come around very much thinking that the place is cursed. But a Nun killing herself isn’t good for the faith – so the Vatican sends Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate – and insists he bring Sister Irene (Farmiga) – a novice Nun, yet to take her final vows, along with him – for reasons that don’t become clear until later on.
You don’t really need to know much else than that. If you’ve seen other Conjuring films, then the image of the Demonic Nun is probably seared into your memory – like Annabelle the doll, you cannot really deny that she is incredibly creepy, and when deployed sparingly as she has been previously, is a good source for jump scares. Here though, she’s the whole damn show – and while scenes where she (or perhaps an actual Nun) stalk around the dark, foreboding monastery, or the darker and more foreboding forest that surrounds them – stalking Irene and Burke are effective, you also want the film to get going a little faster. One of the advantages of being fifth in a series in that you shouldn’t have to spend so long setting everything up – everyone in the audience knows what’s going to happen, so they should probably get there a bit quicker. It doesn’t help that the movie spends a long time explaining things – deciphering clues, etc. and answering questions no one really asked.
It’s not all bad. Director Corin Hardy does do atmosphere quite well – it helps that he’s working mainly in woods, or a thousand-year monastery which do a lot of the work for you, but he does it well anyway. Farmiga is quite intriguing as Irene as well – her older sister, of course, played a lead role in the two Conjuring films, and while their characters don’t seem related in a family sense in the films, they are related in a different, perhaps deeper level. I’d like to see her again.
But while much of The Nun is effective on a surface level, it never really gets into the kind of bone deep terror the best of the Conjuring movies do. It does the filler alright, but what it really needed were those few scenes that make a horror movie truly memorable and terrifying. They’re missing here, and really, that’s kind of the whole point. The film is all buildup and no payoff.

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