The Conjuring Universe gets wider (and weirder) with this latest instalment from The Hallow director Corin Hardy. While Hardy has proven himself adept at creeping chills and visual flair with his debut feature, something seems to have gone seriously wrong here. Eschewing the sophisticated (if a little bit hackneyed) jump scares of the first two Conjuring films, and the better-than-expected Annabelle: Creation, The Nun has opted to throw out any sense of rationale and gone for full on bonkers gothic schlock – while Hardy seems to have had a good time with the movie, it’s nowhere near as much fun for the audience.
Thankfully not as cynically terrible as bottom-of-the-barrel doll dross Annabelle, The Nun feels like an odd misstep in a horror franchise that’s otherwise felt very carefully controlled. If this wasn’t a Conjuring Universe movie, we’re not sure it would even get a wide theatrical release at all, and we’re frankly surprised that series creator James Wan gave it the sign off.
A prequel to the previous prequels, set before the Annabelle and Conjuring movies began, The Nun is the origin story (sort of) of demon Valak who came out of a painting and bothered Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2. Set in Romania in 1952, it follows Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a priest with a dark past who is sent with young Novice Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of a Nun. The Vatican is worried something’s up in this particular ridiculously remote gothic abbey which the locals are all terrified of where no one ever goes. Spoiler alert: turns out there is.
On the way to the Abbey, which looks like a horror movie Hogwarts, they meet lusty local ‘Frenchie’ (Jonas Bloquet), a French Canadian farmer who delivers supplies to the cloistered sisters and discovered the body, who agrees to act as a guide for the two. But when they arrive, the creepy black-shrouded Abbess tells them they must wait until the morning, forcing the two visiting clergy to spend the night…
And that’s pretty much it when it comes to plot. From here on out The Nun becomes a barrage of set pieces stacking up monsters, demons and apparitions which would be at home in an episode from Tales From The Crypt. Hardy mixes his gothic backdrop with lashings of folk horror and an almost early Sam Raimi-esque genre exuberance – which would be a lot of fun were the dialogue not so leaden and the plot so thin.
More a Conjuring-themed haunted house experience than an actual credible horror movie, scary images come at you thick and fast, somehow without managing to be actually scary. Meanwhile Conjuring Universe easter eggs are dotted about the place, from mildly interesting tie-ins that enhance the mythos to mildly ridiculous sight gags which don’t (look out for a number plate which is only a small step away from actually reading ‘Valak 1’).
To Hardy’s credit, The Nun doesn’t take itself very seriously. Unlike the other movies in the franchise, it’s not portentous and obsessed with convincing the audience that the events we’re watching actually happened – The Nun is camply funny and it’s clearly meant to be. Fun one-liners and the frequent appearances of Valak at the end of various long corridors (definitely this demon’s MO) feel like cheeky winks and stop The Nun from feeling purely like a crass cash in. That doesn’t make it in any way good movie though.
And as part of the Conjuring Universe it feels totally off. If the Conjuring movies are trying to convince us that some of this creepy crap happened, for example, where does that leave us with the subplot of Father Burke who has apparently in the past exorcised a child TO DEATH?
Hardy has a background in practical effects and has drawn influences from ‘70s and ‘80s horror, so it’s at least a visually interesting movie. But Gary Dauberman’s script does him absolutely no favours.
Dauberman wrote the screenplay for the terrible Annabelle, and the not terrible Annabelle: Creation, so if his work in the Conjuring Universe follows the ‘a good one, then a terrible one’ pattern then this might at least bode well for his work on the next currently untitled Annabelle instalment. But, until then, how many times should you go and see this movie? The clue’s in the title…
The Nun is out now.