“The Conjuring” cinematic universe kind of snuck up on the horror community over the years, prompting a series of movies that have been hit or miss. While I think “The Conjuring” cinematic universe has a ton of potential to be fantastic, at its current state, there’s still a lot for the studios to learn from the previous films. On its own, “The Nun” is a perfectly fine bit of gothic horror that’s sadly mostly half baked, and under developed. It’s saved by the small cast’s strong turns, and the dazzling imagery that successfully channels the old Hammer films. “The Nun” sets out to build a different energy from the rest of the movies in “The Conjuring” franchise, and for better and for worse, it accomplishes that.
After a nun named Victoria commits suicide at a Romanian Abbey, the Vatican begins to investigate learning about the Abbey’s dark history. They then enlist the help of Father Anthony Burke, a man with a dark past involving a botched exorcism. He then recruits a young novitiate named Sister Irene, a charismatic and mindful potential nun, who has the ability to see more than other people can. The pair travel to Romania to investigate the cursed Abbey whose darkness seems to be staining the lands. Aong with a local farmer named Frenchie who discovered the body of Victoria initially, they learn about the Abbey’s past and its link to a powerful demon named Valak.
“The Nun” feels like more of a Gothic mystery that about the overwhelming influence of evil, and director Corin Hardy crates this charming horror and adventure aesthetic that works more times than it doesn’t. The mystery behind Valak is a solid bit of guess work and interesting twists that I quite responded to, and that’s aided by the stunning direction by Hardy, who paints the Abbey as a character all on its own. That said, “The Nun” only finishes as an okay entry in “The Conjuring” canon, mainly because of its consistent fumbles in narrative and tone. Despite the very strong performances by Taissa Farmiga and Demián Bichir, they’re painfully under developed both as characters and as a team fighting this supernatural force. Too often the script separates them rather than play off of their dynamic, or at least trying to build this dynamic.
This could be the modern Father Karris and Lankaster Merrin, but the writers do almost nothing with them. Taissa’s character Sister Irene is a novitiate who people consistently deduce that she’s yet to take her vows as a nun, but why? Is it conflict with her faith? A lack of faith? Fear of committing to her convent? Fear of losing free will? Perhaps she wants to explore the world more? She seems very enthusiastic and reasoning when we meet her, but she gets only one establishing scene before she’s basically just walking around dark halls with lanterns. As for Father Burke, his whole personal conflict with the botched exorcism could have also amounted to a personal battle, or big self-realization, or like Lankaster Merrin, amounted to a gigantic sacrifice in the finale. But when the closing credits begin, the characters are essentially the same going as they were when we met them.
Farmiga is a wonderful actress who could have turned Irene in to an inadvertent heroine fearlessly battling Valak and somewhat realizing that her devotion to her religion makes her powerful and not weak. But none of those themes are ever expounded on, thus the characters feel more like excuses to jump from one scare to another. It’s also extra sad that Valak is much more horrifying in “The Conjuring 2” than she is here, as she’s mostly reduced to a shadow until the climax. To further complicate matters, Farmiga’s casting is unusual, and comes off more as a gimmick for press, as her role as sister Irene has literally no bearing on the whole of “The Conjuring” or the life of the Warrens. In either case, “The Nun” is a solid ghost film with some interesting spooky imagery and strong performances. It’s not stellar like “The Conjuring” films, but it is miles more competent than “Annabelle.”