A sequel to the successful ‘Conjuring’ series, ‘The Nun’ is the first real misstep, and proof that creating a sequel sometimes isn’t better than having nun.
We live in a world where any movie character, no matter how forgettable, has a chance of scoring their own spinoff film. How else can we explain the existence of The Nun, a horror movie based on the demon that originally appeared in 2016’s The Conjuring 2? In that far superior movie, the demonic nun Valak terrorizes a family to decent horrific effect. The Nun is a prequel nobody asked for, and there’s nothing but weak scares and questionable logic to justify it.
After the success of The Conjuring in 2013, New Line Cinema expanded it into its own film universe, generating a sequel and three spinoffs (those Annabelle movies are connected to the universe, too). The Annabelle movies are shaky at best, but The Nun represents a lack of the careful craftsmanship that makes the central Conjuring entries so delightful.
It starts with promise, and that’s because the movie looks great. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre creates gorgeous gothic images of a ghost-infested Romania. Director Corin Hardy is able to compose some beautiful shots, and the castle where most of the film takes place is packed with all the setpieces a fun haunted house ride needs.
The opening scene sees a nun committing suicide by hanging herself after Valak escapes from where she’s been confined. A priest, a nun in training and a farmer from nearby travel to the monastery to investigate.
There’s not too much plot to explore, so Hardy pads the runtime with spontaneous haunted house scenes. It comes with all the Conjuring tropes — a gadget randomly turns itself on and off, cameras slowly panning around the room before monsters jump out from hiding, and you can bet every time they show a long hallway, some sort of monster will be standing at the end of it.
But the horror scenes happen because it needs to be billed as a horror movie, not because they actually add anything to the film. They never forward the movie. On their first night at the monastery (because, of course, they have to sleep over), the priest (Demian Bichir) and sister (Taissa Farmiga) are haunted by multiple ghouls, but once the sun rises, they move on and never mention what they saw again.
There are no clear rules about what the demons can actually do, and that eliminates the stakes, which eliminates the thrills. Characters get bitten by snakes, buried alive and strangled every few minutes, but there’s never any lasting repercussions. These scenes aren’t scary — they’re something you sit through until the next thing happens. Hardy crafts them with a total lack of passion.
When you look at classic horror movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween, they’re scary because the audience knows exactly what the rules surrounding the antagonists are. You know when Freddy Krueger shows up in a dream, that character is in danger. Here, some things matter, and some things don’t, and there’s no distinction as to which is which.
The Conjuring films aren’t the scariest, but they have heart. Both films give memorable characterizations and arcs to their leads — Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play fleshed-out characters, and that makes them stick out. There’s nothing like that in The Nun — no memorable scare or story beat. It exists because a studio head greenlit it, which was the last time a creative thought was put toward it. ••