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Nun Too Scary

Demian Bichir
Demian Bichir
Warner Brothers
 102 Minutes
Directed by: Corin Hardy
Starring: Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga  
The Nun

Anyone who has ever gone on a haunted house ride in an amusement park knows how it works. People climb onboard a miniature train (or, in some cases, a boat) that takes them slowly through a series of typical horror tableaux as they make their way through the ride. These scenarios have no plot or logic behind them; they are merely spooky settings familiar to horror buffs like cemeteries or a mad scientist’s laboratory. Then, somewhere as the train makes its way through an individual scene, something scary, or, rather, something that the ride operators hope is scary happens. Sometimes the effect works, and most of the time it doesn’t, but, in either case, the ride quickly moves on to the next scene. Watching The Nun, the latest installment in New Line Cinema’s so-called Conjuring universe produces a similar feeling with viewers. Supposedly scary scenes abound, one after the other, with little rhyme, reason, or plot continuity, and the results are very hit-and-miss, with the emphasis on the miss.


The Conjuring universe is a series of loosely connected horror films derived from The Conjuring, a modestly entertaining movie about a real-life husband and wife team of professional ghostbusters, Ed and Louise Warren. In The Conjuring 2, Louise was troubled by the continuing presence of a nun with a face resembling that of the one in Edward Munch’s famous painting, The Scream. Since the nun was one of the more popular apparitions in the movie, a spinoff seemed a natural, especially since New Line had already gone to the well rather successfully with two Annabelle movies, another Conjuring spinoff about a possessed doll.


The Nun is a prequel of sorts to the appearance of that “character” in The Conjuring 2. The prequel takes place in Romania in 1952, where a young nun residing at the world’s creepiest convent hangs herself. The Vatican suspects something unholy might be afoot at the convent and sends its resident expert in unholy goings on, Father Burke (Damien Bichir), to investigate. He brings along with him an inexperienced novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), whose only qualification seems to be a sweet, innocent face and the ability to act extremely frightened on cue. They travel to the convent, accompanied by Frenchy (Jonas Bloquet), who drops them off but conveniently returns later when the script demands there be three people in the convent to provide more variety in the fright scenes.


And, those fright scenes are pretty much all that take up the last hour or so of the movie. Burke and Irene eventually discover the force behind the supernatural scares, a demon named Valak that is trying to make its way through a portal that was partially opened by bombs dropped on the convent in World War II. At times, Valak appears as the aforementioned nun with the Scream face, and at times like some of the other nuns who used to be at the convents, and yet at other times like a giant snake demon. Throughout that last hour, the three protagonists conveniently separate and go down long dark corridors that allow things to chase after them or stand in front of open doors that allow things to grab them and pull them into dark rooms.

Good horror movies like The Exorcist have an internal logic to them. Once the audience accepts the film’s basic premise, everything else makes sense given that initial set of assumptions. Bad horror movies, on the other hand, often change the rules as they go along, merely in an effort to surprise the audience. The Nun seems to have no rules at all. The demon’s powers seem to change from one scene to another, and it can take multiple forms at the same time. The human characters find themselves attacked and then emerge in the next scene none the physically worse for wear. The audience gets tired of all these machinations pretty quickly and then merely sits back and waits for something to happen. There is no sense of identification, either with the demon or the human characters.


Given the lack of a coherent plot or any remotely interesting characters in The Nun, all that is left for director Corin Hardy to do is set up fright scenes, and he does a fairly haphazard job of that. Given the large number of set pieces in the movie (the last hour practically resembles a compilation of short fright videos with the same cast), it was probably inevitable that there are a few scary moments in The Nun. But they are largely simply jump scares, many of which Hardy telegraphs with some far too obvious staging. In fact, the scariest moment in the movie is the one that concludes the widely-seen trailer for the film and will thus be spoiled for the vast majority of the audience who have, in fact, been lured into the theater by that same trailer.


The Nun even manages to botch one of most surefire fright scenarios of all, that of a person being buried alive. Early in the movie, in one of the many scenes that make little sense, some invisible force seizes Father Burke and pushes him into an open casket in an open grave in the cemetery he just happens to be wandering around in late at night, then proceeds to bury him alive. Most directors could easily milk a buried Father Burke frantically trying to escape while his companions wonder where he is for ten or fifteen minutes of suspense. Here, the coffin appears to be about as big as Imelda Marcos’ closet, and Sister Irene rescues Burke in about two minutes. (Still, even after this experience, it takes another half hour for Burke to become convinced that there is something unholy lurking around the convent.


There is also something unholy lurking around the movie theaters where The Nun is playing. The movie is fairly well-made technically, with some decent computer effects, but the frights are few and relatively far between, and there is absolutely nothing else of interest in the entire 100 minutes of the movie. Bichir is completely wasted here, and the only interesting thing about Farmiga’s performance is her casting. She is the younger sister of Vera Farmiga, who plays Louise Warren in the Conjuring, leading viewers to speculate whether her character will turn out eventually to be related to Louise. At least that’s one thing worthy of speculation about The Nun. It would truly take a miracle to find a second.

In this clip, Taissa Farmiga prays in an effort to ward off evil.

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The Nun (2018) on IMDb