The Nun Review


Corin Hardy’s The Nun skulks into Warner Brothers’ Conjurverse as light and airy as it skulks through its own demonic convent storyline. 1950s Romania boasts decades-old cavernous castle dreadfulness, forever the film’s most eye-catching and engaging feature. Hardy understands this. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre understands this. Sweeping exterior shots soak-up every stony Eastern European inch of masonry clouded by foggy blankets, but staples of Wan’s possession universe are forgone relics in Hardy’s unholy monster mash. This, unfortunately, brands a more generic horror flavor – although still tasty as a sisterly bite of gothic Hammer chills.

Demián Bichir stars as priest Father Burke, sent by Vatican officials to investigate a nun’s sinful suicide. Alongside is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who serves as his gender-opposite insider contact. Their travels lead them to a rural Romanian farming village where the deceased nun’s dilapidated abbey stands far enough outside to drum up local legends. This is the exact destination of Father Burke and Sister Irene, unluckily enough for local tour guide “Frenchie” (Jonas Bloquet). Arrival is swift, investigations begin and it’s not long before a formidable evil reveals itself. We meet again, Valak.

Bonnie Aarons reprises her role as “The Nun”/Valak, her pale-faced, fang-toothed angel from below who’s never had a hard time generating scares – until now. Maybe it’s an over-saturation of nun ghosts roaming abbey halls (in addition to *The* Nun). Maybe Gary Dauberman plays a little too loose with zombification lore that transcends haunted aesthetics into more B-Movie territories. Aarons menaces, but both James Wan and David Sandberg found much tighter, less revealing ways to surge “The Nun” forward for short-but-primal screams.

This said, audiences may find themselves having more fun with The Nun than expected. Hardy’s direction favors physical villains over atmospheric tension, as does Dauberman’s screenplay. Where Wan’s sensibilities are more about characters shuffling down hallways in dead silence, Hardy’s not afraid to stage larger action sequences (however shaky camerawork becomes).

Frenchie gets mounted by a noose-strung nun apparition, medieval knights of God prevent a Blood Demon from fully forming mid-summon, Valak verbalizes his damning intent instead of emerging from painted canvas only to vanish. Hell, Hardy opens The Nun on a populous flock of crows flying towards the camera, which – for those of you following – may as well have been a direct “‘eff you” in response to his own canceled remake of The Crow. Hardy’s here to have fun, ultimately leading to an unexpected uptick in iced-over corpse resurrections and far more force-pushing humans across rooms.

Period aesthetics spin a rustic yarn since Romania might as well be considered in the Dark Ages even by 50s standards. Outdated (dangerous) tones are set by rigged bells connected to buried caskets in case a plague patient came-to six feet under or citadel furniture that only the most satanic-obsessed duke would purchase. The Nun’s set pieces look absolutely stunning from echoey production designs down to wide-sweeping cloister grounds that capture so much crackled, war-gutted character. Thick mists, wooden crosses dangling from musty basement hallways, said crosses then flipping upside down to alert of nastiness that cometh – horrors of a technologically vacant generation. All Father Burke and Sister Irene have to aid them is crossword puzzle logic, prayer and…a holy canister containing the actual blood of Jesus Christ?

Like I said – The Nun *really* takes some B-Movie liberties here. Excitable genre blasphemy with a serpent’s kiss (quite literally at times).

Comparisons between Taissa Farmiga and her sister Vera are unavoidable not only because they’re both Conjurverse actresses, but both characters are religiously linked and both “suffer” from spiritual visions. Sister Irene is not connected to Lorraine Warren (as we know), but Taissa finds her own place as a deciding child of faith who’s not yet taken her final vows. The Nun is her test, Frenchie her temptation, and Father Burke her guiding hand – a man with his own hangups. Burke’s time-ago failed exorcism on a helpless child makes for an exploitable weak spot, and Bichir finds churchly guilt to internally torment his man-of-cloth miracle searcher.

Can we talk about Frenchie’s overt hitting on Sister Irene, though? On second thought, maybe not. Better to admit how hammed-up the “crush” arc plays and move on (Jonas Bloquet’s livelier performance clashes with Farmiga and Bichir’s stuffier hymnal reciting).

The Nun avoids such falls from Conjurverse grace as Annabelle, but pales in comparison to top-notch nightmare efforts like The Conjuring or The Conjuring 2. Scares are often on the generic side (pitch-black doorway, hand reaches out), and while some wild effects work enjoys the zanier side of Hell’s mouth opening up to spit venom across Earth’s surface, it’s missing the masterfully torturous tone that Wan’s universe otherwise aims for. Again, though, that’s not totally a bad thing! As Ant-Man And The Wasp is a comedic deviation from the Marvel Cinematic Universe formula, The Nun replicates stand-alone thematic shake-ups. Less “BOO,” more “WHAAA?” Take that for what you will.

The Nun Review

Romanian castles and catacombs define The Nun's tremendous location characteristics, which are inherently spooky when used to heighten a more "generic" brand of horror than Conjurverse films are used to.