On June 10th, 2016, The Conjuring 2 was released, and audiences all over the world met a character that scared the pants off them, The Nun. While I thought she was a little overhyped, I agreed she was a good character, and so it only made sense when it was announced that The Conjuring universe would be expanding with a new spinoff based on the unholy demon, The Nun. On a budget of 22 million, The Nun released this past weekend and has already grossed over 130 million worldwide. That would be great, if the film was actually any good…
…Directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) with a script by Conjuring spinoff staple Gary Dauberman (IT, Annabelle), The Nun tells the story of a priest (Demian Bichir) and a novice nun (Taissa Farmiga) who are sent by the Vatican to investigate the death of a nun at a nunnery in Romania. There, they discover an ancient evil in the form of a demonic nun and find themselves in a battle for their souls.
I’m not going to sugar coat it with sweet nothings sprinkled on top. At this point, Dauberman has become the reflection of the inherent issue with most studio horror films these days. This guy, by all counts, should not still be having a hand in working on what are arguably the most successful horror films of the past few years. Each of his scripts are filled with basic plots, overused horror tropes, and enough jump scares to make the first ever jump scare cat roll over in its grave nine times. Horror isn’t leaning over and shouting BOO in someone’s ear to make them jump. It’s taking a look at the darker side of life and scaring the audience enough so that they’re thinking about the film long after. But Dauberman’s scripts simply don’t have the power to do so. Yet, his movies keep fooling us and making bank on opening weekend, only to fall off once word of mouth gets out, but opening weekend is enough to make back more than double the budget, so the studios simply scream “Success!” no matter how bad the film really is. It’s a terrible trend that I fear is not going away any time soon. Great that horror is doing so well, but it should be doing it on the backs of horror films that are actually worth re-watching. Okay, rant over.
Luckily for Dauberman, Bichir and Farmiga are a quality enough actor and actress that they can make something out of nothing, and there is plenty of nothing behind the characters in The Nun. Bichir comes equipped with some vague backstory about losing a boy during an exorcism, which of course is used to haunt him throughout the film, except the audience never really has much of a connection to it, because by never witnessing the actual event, or having much detail, it’s difficult to relate to Bichir’s character, Father Burke. Farmiga as Sister Irene, on the other hand, has even LESS to work with, with another vague backstory on visions she had as a kid. How did those visions make the Vatican decide she should be a part of this investigation? Dauberman and Hardy don’t seem to care, so why should we? Despite the sorry excuses for character development and an even poorer relationship between the two, Bichir and Farmiga keep the audience engaged, for a time at least, because both try to pull as much out of their roles as they can, resulting in endearing performances that makes you care about them. By the way, the connection those two backstories end up sharing is so laughably coincidental, that I won’t spoil it here, because we all deserve a good, unspoiled joke, and I won’t ruin this one for you.
So how about the Nun herself (Bonnie Aarons)? Surprisingly, the effects in The Nun are actually one of the high points of the film (for the most part). The Nun looks good, and Aarons brings a creep factor to the character with slow, precise movements and looks that genuinely unnerve. But it’s the practical effects which really shine. Hardy seems to understand that CGI should only be used when necessary, and while it’s still quite a bit overused, the practical FX provided is great and makes The Nun stand out a bit from the other standoffs in the sense that it has an overall darker tone. There are some grisly images in The Nun, whether it be faces half eaten by birds or undead, frozen corpses, the effects are generally er, effective, and have an element of gore that hasn’t been seen in previous films in The Conjuring universe.
Too bad then that the pacing/tension building is utterly nonexistent in the face of jump scare, after jump scare, after jump scare. If you were an addict and jump scares were your drug, you’d OD after about twenty minutes of The Nun. I get it, some fans love jump scares, but I’m not one of them, and if I was, I think I’d still be disappointed by the fact that Hardy and Dauberman can’t seem to create a unique scare for the life of them. The Nun is so predictably lame in its usage of scare tactics, that it might as well be called “The Great Disappearing Nun Act”, because that’s literally all this film is. Scene after scene after scene involves a character spotting The Nun, looking away, and oh, guess what, it’s gone! And oh no, there she is again! But don’t worry, horror fans, because Hardy and Dauberman decide to change it up once in a while with random ghost hands popping into frame every few scenes! And round and round we go, stuck on a horizontal roller coaster of tired mediocrity. But hey, we all liked that scene in The Conjuring 2 where The Nun’s hands crept over the painting and she burst out at us, right? So WHY NOT do it a thousand times in her very own film? I’ll have to do a count, but that may not be an exaggeration.
If an overuse of the same scares isn’t enough, Dauberman attempts to lessen the tension even further by throwing in unnatural comedy that NEVER. FEELS. RIGHT. Early in the film, our heroes meet the man who found the body of the deceased nun, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet). Bloquet, like the others, is a fine actor, but there’s only so much you can do when the main purpose to your character seems to be random, cheesy one liners that result in more eye rolls than they do laughs. Note to filmmakers: When you’re trying to make your audience uncomfortable, forcing laughs at inopportune moments is not the way to go. EVER. All this does in The Nun is absolutely shatter whatever little tension was building, and the film struggles enough there.
I’ve bashed on this film quite a bit, which believe it or not, I don’t like to do. I go into every horror film with no expectations other than an enjoyable experience, because I love this genre. Which is why this last error on the filmmakers part infuriates me the most. The Nun, time and again, insults the intelligence of its audience. Perfect example (with a very MINOR SPOILER): In the opening scene of the film, we see a nun kill herself by hanging herself from a rope as The Nun approaches, all after her superior tells her “you know what you must do”, (while also mentioning the evil wants to escape) just before she is killed. It should be obvious to us then that this nun takes a “leap of faith” in order to prevent being possessed and allowing the evil to leave the castle. But just in case you didn’t get it, the filmmakers treat this as some sort of great revelation and twist towards the end of the film. Are you kidding me? Oh, and we’re also given a laughable excuse as to how The Nun is connected to The Conjuring films at the very end, just in case you needed a reminder. When will filmmakers learn that horror audiences don’t need to be spoon-fed everything? Horror is at its best when it allows itself to breathe and urges the audience to make up their own opinions.
If anything, The Nun should prove a lesson for all parties involved in The Conjuring universe. You are not Marvel. Marvel had a carefully specific plan that stretched over a decade, whereas The Conjuring universe is flying by the seat of its pants, reacting to each and every audience plea. What’s that, you liked that doll that showed up in one scene in The Conjuring? Let’s make three movies about it! Oh, you liked that Nun demon in The Conjuring 2? Quick, rush a movie about it into production! If you’re going to build a universe, take your time. We can be patient. I would’ve much rather waited five years to get a great version of The Nun instead of two to get…whatever this was. But hey, at least the gothic setting was badass. If you’re going to see this one, just make sure to bring some holy water to wash out your eyes afterwards. You have been warned.
By Matt Konopka