Directed by Corin Hardy
In 1952 Romania, a suicide at a convent draws the attention of the Catholic Church. A priest and a young nun in her novitiate are sent to investigate only to encounter a sinister dark force ready to unleash their horror upon the world.
During the 80s and 90s when video rental stores were still a thing, I would often find myself renting low budget horror films from my local mom and pop shop. Many of those were from a company called Full Moon Entertainment. Those movies were done on the cheap, but they had an atmosphere and a vibe and a creep throughout. Visually they looked more expensive than they actually were. And despite being low budget they were well scripted and well-acted. Most while not scary were tense and the vast majority were entertaining. They tended to be set in Europe (at least from what I recall) and there always seemed to be an isolated estate or building of some type involved.
I bring this little nugget of my life up because The Nun feels as if it is done in a similar vein as those. It has an atmosphere. There is a creepy feeling throughout this film. The acting is fantastic, and the script is solid. It does not scare you, but it creeps you out the whole way through with a satisfying and exciting ending. That ending has a twist that you will not necessarily see coming even if you are aware of the first Conjuring film. I was surprised but when I thought about it the connection was staring me in the face the whole time, but I did not pick up on it. And Full Moon movies back in the day could do just that. They would have twist or even just surprising endings that snuck up on you. I hear they are still around, but they are not quite as good.
This movie ties in to the Conjuring expanded universe. Is that a thing now? The Nun focuses on the Nun/Valak character (Bonnie Aarons) introduced in the second film as this movie’s main baddy. Valak is an effective and frightening character that is not all special effects. Most of the otherworldly feel looks to be created using on set techniques rather than CGI.
We have jaded Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and innocent nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga). Religion-specifically Catholicism-plays a prominent and authentic to practices role. Aside from the implication of shadowy motivations by the Vatican (an annoyingly common trope) in the introduction of Father Burke, the story proceeds as two individuals dispatched to investigate a supernatural event with the nefarious motivations aspect dropped quickly. The Church does dispatch people to investigate the supernatural though the exorcism aspect is played up a bit here. Rather than pair Burke with a full-fledged nun they created Sister Irene as a nun that was for all intents and purposes almost there but not quite. Not the norm in movies but an interesting dip into the mechanizations of the Church.
Valak is evil for the sake of being evil. It is not some pained and damaged spirit. It is ultimate darkness with no other goal than to cause spiritual harm and torment. Up until recently this was a trope that had fallen away This is also a rare horror film made today that acknowledges a higher power. The Blood of Christ plays a central role in this movie and its resolution. That is an infrequent thing. Back in the day though horror movies were the polar opposite where God or a vaguely defined higher power was referenced often and truth be told it felt clunky and forced. This movie does not go heavy on it but does not ignore it either.
It is fun to know that Taissa Farmiga who plays Sister Irene in this movie is the sister of Vera Farmiga who stars in the Conjuring films as Elaine Warren. Taissa plays Irene as not that different from younger nuns I have met. I bought her in the role. She is unsure of her path and maybe even doubtful if she should be a nun.
Father Burke was the usual jaded priest damaged by previous bouts with the supernatural. He carries a particular burden about a bout he tried to help from a few years before, but it is not a plot point that they keep shoving in your face. That is something I hate. “I am so troubled by what happened” gets brought up every few minutes but not here. It is part of the character but not his sole defining characteristic. I like that they avoided that cliché.
Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) is the only character “forced” in to the story based on connections to The Conjuring but his presence does not come off as shoehorned in. He is important to the story but his presence in scenes is dictated by logic to the plot rather than a need to justify the character’s inclusion in the story.
What I wonder about this movie is with the nuns populating the abbey, were we getting a version of events that led up to the first scene of the movie or was it the nuns trying to impart information? Were Burke and Irene interacting with a vision or were they getting a warning? It is something to think about and that they do not right out tell you is a benefit to the narrative. It is always good for the mind of the view were to do a little work. At least once in our lives we have all let our mind scare us with a thought that got away from us.
I said there’s creep in this movie and they accomplish that by setting it in an Eastern European country in the most rural town you could possibly conjure at the time in which this movie occurs. That is a very Full Moon features tactic. And it can also be considered a throwback to old school horror films as those often set them in some vague and often unnamed European country. But it works.
The Nun had a steady pace with ominous dialogue. The story was a slow build that went nuts in a mind-bending finale. It just kicked it up into high gear in the last few minutes as they dealt with the evil. I was cheering for Frenchie along with the others to get some type of happily ever after but that was not quite going to happen which was a little heartbreaking as I had become invested in the characters.
I found the script for The Nun well written and the acting very good. This while not scary it was an atmospheric and entertaining horror film that is probably best watched in the daytime.