WRITTEN BY GARY DAUBERMAN
DIRECTED BY: COLIN HARDY
STARRING: TAISSA FARMIGA, BONNIE AARONS, DAMION BICHIR
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: ATOMIC MONSTER, NEW LINE CINEMAS
DISTRIBUTED BY: NEW LINE/WB
RELEASE DATE SEPTEMBER 7, 2018
RUNNING TIME 98 MINUTES
RATED R FOR TERROR, VIOLENCE, AND DISTURBING/BLOODY IMAGES
There is a sequence about thirty-five minutes into The Nun that exemplifies the whole of the film. Following a noise (as horror characters often do), Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, “American Horror Story”, sister of Conjuring star Vera Farmiga) enters a ruined chapel. There she finds, well I won’t spoil the contents of the scene itself, a creepy set up. Some disturbing imagery and an long take that exudes dread. As it reaches the apex of dread… BOO! A loud noise and Valek (the demon nun also featured in CONJURING 2 and ANNABELLE: CREATION) hisses at the camera and Sister Irene. The tension deflated by the cheap shock.
That’s the big issue with the solid but not quite there THE NUN, the fifth entry in the Conjuring horror franchise. For everything that makes the film interesting and unexpected for a mainstream film, there is another made for the lowest-common-denominator movie-goer. Director Colin Hardy (THE HALLOW – very recommended) sets up a wonderfully creepy shot or idea and then immediately follows it with an obvious set-up for a jump. I heard it in the audience at my screening; they were dulled out when a scare wasn’t shoved in their face. For a comparison, recall 2012’s The Woman in Black. For long sections, the film is brilliantly designed; using the location and darkness to create intense tension until the titular character shows up and screams. Stillness is more unsettling than a scream.
On the films credit, there is a wealth of creep and dread, no matter how often it’s ultimately ruined. The Nun moves a great pace; there is little downtime, presenting one sequence after the other. It’s rather unrelenting and somes mean-spirited and direct for a wide-release, even if it doesn’t go for broke with the sequences. However, the downside of that onslaught is there is little room for character or subtext, keeping everything just at surface level. Sister Irene and the priest with her, Father Burke (Damian Bishir, HATEFUL EIGHT, ALIEN:COVENANT) have little to none of the guilt or doubt that often drives religious characters in film. Burke does have a wee bit of backstory in this vein, but it’s really more an excuse to keep him an active participant in the film. Their actions in the film are purely for scares or to drive the underwritten plot through to the next sequence.
Father Burke seemed familiar when he showed up, I had to look him up after the film to see if he was in the other Conjuring-verse films as well. He’s not. No doubt this is on purpose; I would expect to have further adventures of Burke and Irene if this film does well. Bishir and Farmiga have enough chemistry and charisma to carry the film, even if there isn’t enough character to dig into for either. Unlike other similar films, they also get along just fine with no conflict between them. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing – no forced conflict to distract from the true issue but also keeps them flat Also on hand is Frenchie, played by Jonas Bloquet. He’s useless for the story, present occasionally as comic relief and be a voice for the audience. He could have been completely cut from the film and made no difference after a few moments re-written. Bonnie Aarons proves to be a great physical performer as the demonic Valek, giving horror in movements.
I wonder how much of a fan screenwriter Gary Dauberman (It, Annabelle fims) is of Hellboy and the BPRD comics. In many ways, it felt like a Hellboy/BPRD comic without either party present: demonic/pagan rituals, large castles in Eastern Europe, unholy things in holy garb. I ways also reminded of Italian horror, likely due to their many convent-based horrors. I almost expected obviously dubbing.
Despite it’s issues, THE NUN is a worthy trip to the theater. It has a great look and tone, some well done scare sequences with wonderfully creepy imagery. Even with needless jump scares and light characterization, there is more than enough to keep interest and have a good time.
(A version of this review appears on WatchPlayRead.com, which also provided the passes for this screening. Thanks Jasen!)