BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
SEPTEMBER 21, 2018
“I’m afraid there is something very wrong with this place.”— Father Burke (Demián Bichir)
In 2014, when Warner Bros. announced that it would be spinning off stories from its highly acclaimed “Conjuring” series, which at the time had just come off of a $41.9 million domestic opening weekend and a worldwide total of $319.5 million, against a budget of $20 million, a collective sigh was released. Had we loved “The Conjuring?” Yes. Had we wanted more of what made that film so terrifyingly good? Of course. But what no one felt they needed was a spin-off that had no real connection to the original. It had no James Wan directing and had no Warrens investigating. All it had was that creepy Annabelle doll we saw a few times in the original film.
From a studio standpoint, I get it. I may not agree with it on a viewer level, but I get it. They refused to let such a masterfully designed doll disappear into a single tiny one-off. There was potential to be mined out of that creepy looking doll. Fast-forward a few years and one more “Conjuring” film later, and we’re just getting started with these spin-offs. Even more, masterfully designed creatures came out of that second film, and now we’ve got rumors of a standalone Crooked Man film, plus the latest release of “The Nun.”
One thing that makes “The Conjuring” films so great is the fact that they are so rich with horror content that they can afford for the Nun and Annabelle to be one-offs. They didn’t need to scratch beyond the surface of those elements because they had plenty of other places to take us. And the films ended up better for it. But in that same sense, the standalone films suffer from only being about that one element. They scratch the surface of those elements until they bleed. Sure, it can be entertaining to see how they tie these films back to the main story, but when it’s all said and done, none of these films, including “The Nun,” really need to exist on their own merits alone.
As advertised, “The Nun” relies almost entirely on jump scares due to a story that is paper thin. Set in 1952 Romania, a nun is found hanging by the neck from the Cârța Monastery, and the Vatican sends Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to investigate whether the land is still holy or not. Alongside, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) accompanies him, a rebellious novitiate on the verge of taking her final vows to become a bona fide nun. Once in Romania, they are shown around by the local, nicknamed “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet) because of his French-Canadian ties. When they are asked to stay the night by the head nun at the monastery, they must then endure the demon spirit we became acquainted with in “The Conjuring 2,” named Valak.
Having not been particularly familiar with Taissa Farmiga’s work, she was a welcome surprise, commanding the screen with each nervous glance. Her wide eyes and shy demeanor offers the perfect canvas for the viewer to project themselves. Bichir is commendable as the Father, doing his best to ground the story and make it as believable as possible. However, the real star of the film is the setting, with the aerial views of the monastery and its grounds landing high on the creep factor and doing the heavy lifting in setting the dark natured tone. Had James Wan been around to add his knack for creating tension and terror from inanimate objects and locations, the film as a whole would have been on another level.
With serviceable performances from its leads, keen attention to the art of the jump scare, and a location that screams “film a horror film here,” the fact that “The Nun” could not bolster a meatier script is disappointing. It’s plain to see that these prequels are lower on the totem pole compared to the names of the “Conjuring” Universe. Needless to say, “The Nun” works better than the aforementioned “Annabelle,” dealing with bigger ideas like faith and history, God and the devil, all ideas that are inherently foreboding. However, just because the monastery setting proves to be the scariest portion of the film, I pray that Warner Bros. does not decide to spin-off this location into a standalone film as well. No one wants to see a film called “The Monastery” next Fall.
September 7, 2018
New Line Cinema
Warner Bros. Pictures
(for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images)