Two-thirds somewhat interesting, one-third throw-everything-against-the-wall and hope something sticks.
When news of a Catholic nun’s death at a remote castle-like convent in Romania reaches the Vatican, specialist Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is brought in to investigate the affair. A recommendation is also included to take along Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a young woman who has not completed her final vows before God. The two of them arrive at a small village near where the event happened, but only the young man (Jonas Bloquet) who discovered the body is willing to take them to the abbey. Something sinister awaits them inside, but can these unlikely heroes solve the mystery and muster their faith in time to avoid becoming the abbey’s latest victims at the gnarled hands of The Nun (Bonnie Aarons)?
Since the first film in The Conjuring franchise, the idea has always been that these films were embellishments of the truth, like The Blair Witch Project without being entirely made up. As the fifth film after two Conjuring and two Annabelle movies, this one explores the creepy possessed-looking popular “demon nun” from The Conjuring 2 by providing a back story. Now fully referring to the franchise as The Conjuring Universe, can it continue to spin straw into box office gold by getting thee to a nunnery?
There have been more than a few issues regarding The Conjuring storyline, mostly with regard to reusing old tropes: mysteriously locked and/or self-opening creaky doors, tight crawl spaces, things reaching out of shadows… the stuff of jump scares. Wall-mounted crosses that turn upside down are pure drivel — Google “St. Peter’s cross” if you want to know why — in the same way pentagrams aren’t inherently evil. Sadly, these are the tropes, so the most we can hope for is dire atmosphere and an intriguing story as our doomed heroes descend into madness… but that isn’t what we get in this outing. A nice budget, cool location, and a decent cast in a story about selflessness in the face of the supernatural are tossed aside for the worst kind of horror movie sin: an unoriginal retread.
Without spoiling, the 1992 Stephen King-based movie Sleepwalkers boasts a similar moment where the rug gets jerked out from under the audience, one that undermines all of the suspense and characterization beforehand. Maybe that was intended to be some huge surprise, but it fails to explain why it was so serious before abrupt silliness. The Nun similarly drops its other shoe off a cliff as the third act gets rolling toward the climax. It’s as if the script was gutted at this point and replaced by any and every horror trope anyone on-set that day could think of. The cue is a stupid phrase uttered by a sincerely foolish character, but the reply is the absolute worst and from the least likely source, a clear signal that any degree of seriousness or originality was just abandoned. “Hey, who needs a coherent story at this point if we’ve still got an effects budget to burn through, right?”
It’s too kind to say borrowed-from, so let’s say this film outright bastardizes films like Demon Knight, Beauty and the Beast, Dracula, Silent Hill, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, and even The Serpent and the Rainbow. They’re as obvious as they are gratuitous… perhaps even litigious. There’s an expectation to horror and especially an established franchise, but nothing about the derivative ending is satisfying, even including the franchise-tying coda. To the film’s credit, it’s nice to see that faith was being used as a weapon and shown to be effective, even in how evil was wearing it down and exhausting those fighting against it. As a veteran of the horror genre, Taissa Farmiga certainly deserved better for her contribution.
If you’re looking for MSTK3-quality schlock or just something spooky to laugh at, you’re in luck. Unfortunately, the hair-raising creepiness promised in the one-sheet poster is nowhere to be found inside, but it’s never a good sign when a 30-second clip is better than the entire film that inspired it.
The Nun is inexplicably rated R for terror, violence, disturbing/bloody images, and criminal misuse of the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
Want to know what we would have done differently? Check out our spoiler-filled re-write as we sCryptDoctor The Nun.
Two skull recommendation out of four