“The Nun” spooks and scares theatres with genuine intrigue and a dark and sinister narrative.
The film, directed by Corin Hardy, exists as part of “The Conjuring” shared film universe but doesn’t act as a prequel as one might expect. The events of the film take place 20 years prior to the first “Conjuring” film and center around four characters. These characters gain an almost mythic standing within the narrative of the film.
Moviegoers are first introduced to Anthony Burke, a priest who works for the Catholic Church as a so-called “miracle hunter.” Burke, portrayed by Demian Bichir, investigates unusual phenomenon, including hauntings and demonic possessions. Burke is tasked with looking into the suicide of a nun at the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania. Burke initially finds this to be out of his jurisdiction but trusts that something peculiar or otherworldly may be occurring, as suicide is considered one of the gravest sins in Catholicism, and it is unlikely a nun would take her own life without extreme reason.
Burke is given a companion to travel with in the form of Sister Irene, a postulant at an abbey in London. Irene, portrayed by Taissa Farmiga, has a rather unusual view of the world when compared to her other sisters. She specifically calls the Bible “a love letter from God,” instructing young children that they should still ask questions about the world. Irene’s character arc over the course of the film suffers from the swift writing directions taken by the script team. She goes from being bold and inquisitive to demure and pious within minutes, and not for narrative reason. One could argue this is showing off different facets of her character but they are too sudden to lend to this argument. Sister Irene becomes a catch-all for different character archetypes throughout the film.
Once the dynamic duo of Burke and Irene arrive in Romania, they seek out a man known only as Frenchie, due to his French-Canadian heritage. Frenchie found the body of the nun hanged by the neck when he made his daily delivery to the abbey. Frenchie serves as the “heroic macho man” of the trio of protagonists. Much like the other characters, he yo-yos back and forth between personalities as needed by the writers. In one scene, he plays the worldly tour guide and after visiting the abbey he becomes a superstitious villager, a group that he openly mocks earlier in the film.
The titular character is actually a demon named Valak, originally introduced in the second Conjuring film as a spectral image without a lot of information as to why it appears as a nun. The demon haunts the abbey and the sisters within it because the founder of the Abbey of St. Carta was actually a powerful demonologist who after much effort summoned Valak to the earthly plain. However, Valak must exist with a human soul to walk the world at large and as such is confined to the walls of the convent. Valak’s ultimate goal is to wreak havoc on Earth, but past the classic reason of “because it’s evil,” there’s not really much substance to this master plan. There’s no compelling reason made clear to the audience about why Valak wants to end humanity.
The asset this movie has above all other elements is the overall aesthetic. The film feels like it takes place in the 1950s. The various locations feel alive and breathing, even in the dismal dungeons of the haunted Abbey. The costuming is just spectacular. For a majority of the film, Burke is not in priestly vestments but in a three piece suit that somehow feels holy enough to substitute. Sister Irene doesn’t wear her habit very much in the film either but the more colorful street clothes feel almost out of the movie “Mathilda.” These are very deliberate choices by the costuming department and they sell the film from a visual standpoint.
Ultimately, “The Nun” doesn’t stand out in the whole of the horror canon. That is not say it is a bad film. That is just to say that moviegoers should not expect much from the horror element of this film. The narrative aspects of the movie create a story with some backbending, but overall they don’t ruin the film. “The Nun” receives a 66 percent rating.