When a nun commits suicide at St. Carta Monastery in Romania in 1952, the Vatican sends Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the death. Burke is an exorcist and has a long history dealing with supernatural phenomenon. Along with Burke is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate who has experienced visions for most of her life and hasn’t taken her final vows. When they arrive in Romania they are shown to the monastery by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a French-Canadian living in Romania that delivers supplies to the nuns but has never sees any of them. Frenchie discovered the dead nun hanging by a rope in front of the abbey. Frenchie bring Burke and Irene to the monastery but quickly leaves. The nuns are standoffish and reluctant to assist in their investigation; but, slowly they begin to uncover the dark secrets of St. Carta, including the presence of a shadowy figure dressed as a nun that wanders the halls. She isn’t a nun. She is the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons).
Looking at it from the outside there’s a great deal to like in “The Nun.” It has “The Conjuring” series of films to kind of vouch for it, it has a creepy location in a medieval castle and it has a tall, willowy nun with glowing eyes and a stark, white face as the main antagonist. All that’s necessary is a decent story and some quality scares and “The Nun” would be a great new addition to the franchise. Maybe next time.
“The Nun” takes the easy way out, sending characters down dark hallways and into spooky cross-filled forests with only a lantern or candle to light the way. Invariably, something jumps out at them, on them or they fall into a pit. It happens so frequently you begin to wonder if the characters aren’t paying any attention. You ask yourself, “Didn’t they learn to ignore the whispered voice or not chase the shadowy figure the last time this happened?” They don’t, and the ultimate evil demon scares them but doesn’t kill or possess them. It becomes laughable after a time.
It is a technically a well-made movie, but it is emotionally vacant. While I started out interested in the fates of the three main characters and the nuns in the convent, I quickly grew bored as there’s no one that grabs your attention and makes you care about their journey. The most interesting character is probably Frenchie so of course he disappears for most of the middle section of the film. It doesn’t help that everyone in the movie is so dumb as to follow every weird thing they see or hear.
Our antagonist is also wasted when she shows up. The Nun, or Valak, is a demon from Hell bent on escaping the castle and spreading her evil across the world in service to Satan (I guess as we’re never told what her mission or goal is). She is shown floating down a hallway, as a shadow on a wall, a reflection in a mirror, etc., yet all these incarnations appear unable to defeat a priest and a nun. As these films require, she comes close as the story enters its finale, but (spoilers) she is defeated. As she’s part of “The Conjuring” films she must survive to infest the homes and dreams of people in the future so there’s really no surprise that she is beaten but shows up in a tag at the end of the movie.
The story follows all the usual beats of a modern horror flick and doesn’t attempt to break out of the formulaic box it is chained up inside of. Perhaps this is the reason the film isn’t scary. There were a few times I was mildly startled but never was I frightened by anything I saw. The potentially scariest scene in the film is in the trailer when Sister Irene is walking down a dark corridor, turns to look down a hallway (the camera turning with her) and turns back with a black-clad nun standing behind her. She is then attacked by Valak. While this scene has the potential to be a classic jump scare, it is wasted for having been in the trailer. I’ve probably seen the trailer for “The Nun” several more times than most as it’s part of my job doing reviews and a movie podcast. But one viewing of what could have been the biggest scare in a horror movie is enough to inoculate the audience, allowing them to build up a tolerance to the scene.
“The Nun” is rated R for terror, disturbing/bloody images and violence. I found the terror to be very mild, but my experience isn’t everyone’s. If you are easily frightened, then you should be prepared. We see the corpse of the nun that commits suicide after it has been hanging for a significant time. There are crows pecking at the body and the lower half of the face appears to have been eaten away. It is dripping blood. A reanimated corpse attacks and is killed (re-killed?) with a shotgun. Another reanimated corpse is set on fire and shot. Nuns gets thrown around a chapel with some dying of their injuries. An upside-down pentagram is carved by an unseen hand in the back of a character. A couple of characters are almost strangled and nearly drowned. A character is buried alive in a coffin then attacked inside the coffin by the demon. A character spits blood in the face of another. Foul language is very mild and limited to one or two uses.
“The Nun” joins “The Conjuring,” “The Conjuring 2,” “Annabelle” and “Annabelle: Creation” as the fifth film in the franchise. There are more films on the way as this series has made an enormous amount of money. The first four films with budgets totaling $81.5-million have made worldwide $1.2-billion. There are expenses over and above making the movie and studios get approximately 55% of the total box office. That means the profit from the four films so far is over $500-million. With audiences so willing to pay for the latest in the “Conjuring” universe, there may be movies coming at us for the next decade or so. “The Nun” is projected to have the biggest opening of any film in the series so far. I have to wonder if fans of the franchise will be disappointed in the lack of scares and flat story or if they will support the film so that more get made. I have to say, if the rest are like “The Nun,” I don’t want none.
“The Nun” gets one star out of five.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “A Simple Favor” for WIMZ.com.
Here’s what else is opening this week:
Unbroken: Path to Redemption—
White Boy Rick—
Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, stream and movies available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.