Old habits die hard
If you enjoyed the The Conjuring series so far, then the prospect of another installment probably makes you the target audience for The Nun. It’s part of that franchise – which already brought you the spin-off Annabelle – and colours in the backstory for another one of the creepy creature-features of the main series.
I’d enjoyed the first two main films, but haven’t seen Annabelle, so can’t say how this fits in which that, but it does tie that freaky looking nun to the paranormal investigating husband-and-wife team. There are a few things which we should talk about early doors though, because it irked me.
Firstly, wasn’t it explained that you simply needed to say the name of the demon Valak to fend off the habit-loving creature? And secondly, they’ve missed a trick not tying Lorraine Warren to the character of Sister Irene more closely, since the two are played by sisters (Vera and Taissa Farmiga respectively). Quick caveat: I can’t be bothered to go back and watch those first two films in this franchise right now, so there may be something I’ve missed in both those points, but they were my initial gripes.
In terms of the mood for the film, James Wan is keeping his hand in the franchise and it’s probably the best thing about it. It’s useful to have him taking part in these films one way or another, because it prevents the quality from slipping into the straight-to-DVD territory. Not that this was a blinder of a horror though, since you know what to expect by now; it’s mostly jump scares and obvious uses of misdirection which provide the scares, it’s more that the jumpy, creepy, haunting films of his seem to have reinvigorated the appetite for horror amongst the general crowds, as opposed to needing to be chocked full of gore.
‘It’s mostly jump scares and obvious uses of misdirection which provide the scares’
The story itself is set in Romania in 1952 (or thereabouts), and sees a monastery having a bit of bother with an ancient evil. The Vatican despatches a priest with knowledge in “miracles” and a rookie nun-in-training with some sort of “gift”, to investigate and shut all the nonsense down. They get there, unaware of how deep the problem goes, needing multiple creepy, signals before they accept something is amiss. Neither of the leads gets to grips with what is meant to be their defining character feature, but it feels like they’re testing the waters for even more spin-offs.
It’d be interesting to know if any of the religious stuff tallies up. Do nuns who haven’t taken their oath wear all white? Do they lie down on the floor to take the oath? Can a nun-in-training simply request to take their vow? Is there a vial of JC’s blood knocking around somewhere? Can you just get away with calling a French character “Frenchie”? All this and more was racing through my mind when I probably should have been scared witless.
Most of the film takes place in the monastery, where the one spooky mystery of what lies beyond a particular door is casually brushed over much later in the film. Keeping your focus instead is the trickery I mentioned earlier regarding perspective. This is where you’ll see either a lot of space behind a character, into which a shadowy figure might step, or a close up of a protagonist looking in one direction with such concentration that your attention is misdirected, meanwhile a hand or body might be given a chance to sneak up on them – out of shot – without us knowing.
Mercifully, this isn’t a long film, so while it might feel like a very basic horror film it is at least brief about it all. The set design is great (though apparently isn’t the actual monastery which exists in Romania) and the general premise is there, it should just be a lot scarier than it is. Plenty of people will be given the jumps, but not the long-lasting heebie-jeebies which you get with something more psychological. The painting of the nun was actually a scarier plot device in the main franchise than the demon in this film, losing a lot of the power it has when it speaks in an American accent.
Tied up in a neat little bow at the beginning and end, you’ll probably appreciate how The Nun fits as a piece of the franchise, but little more than that will stay with you. We’ll soon be getting a The Crooked Man film based on another haunted image from the main franchise, and while a Conjuring 3 is inevitable, it’s spin-offs which disappoint the most – I, personally, am looking forward to an origin film about That One Creaky Floorboard They Stood On That One Time.