Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
In 2013, when James Wann’s “The Conjuring” shook the world and rattled the cages of Hollywood, audiences took notice. Here was a devilishly original and terrifying mainstream horror flick that built up genuine suspense. Unbeknownst to the world, it would kickstart one of the most unforeseen crossover universes of the decade (save for those annoying “Cloverfield” flicks). If there ever was a Marvel cinematic universe of horror, I think “The Conjuring” has that locked airtight.
And so the latest offering, “The Nun,” gives a fully fleshed out background to a side character from a previous film. Much like that creepy doll Annabelle, the habit wearing demonic presence that left audiences uneasy in “The Conjuring 2” has been given the full length treatment.
In an obvious attempt to milk the dog days of September, “The Nun” arrives to fill a void that’s been vacant since “Hereditary” was last seen creeping everyone out. That might not be a fair comparison, because one still sears me with its trippy images, and the other is “The Nun.”
Lackluster in almost every aspect it sets out to prove, Corin Hardy’s spin within “The Conjuring” universe fails to create any atmospheric tension, and hardly gives the platform a character such as The Nun deserves. It’s a film that’s so obsessed with its convoluted origin that it forgets to scare you.
A parable on the puzzles and tribulations of the Catholic teachings, the film takes us back to Romania,1952 (Not before reminding newbies of “The Conjuring” connection) to a convent notorious for poisoning the nearby towns with stories of insurmountable tragedies. It’s an eerie and chilling setting that sets the film up for success, before traveling down a path of cheap thrills. Scares, that I assumed this franchise was better then. A luscious victorian mansion sets the mood, and Hardy fails to explore every nook and cranny within its shallow walls. It’d be like playing an open world video game, and only playing the story mode.
After a Sister takes her own life - a cardinal sin in the eyes of Catholicism - The Vatican sends a priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and a young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga - sibling of “Conjuring” star Vera Farmiga) to investigate the Abbey. Bringing a local farmer, nicknamed Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), with them. The usual occurrences transpire in the fifteen or twenty minutes we spend trying to understand these characters before hell breaks loose. Burke, we find out, used to perform exorcisms at the Church’s discretion, and suffered a great loss. Meanwhile Irene hasn’t even taken her vows yet, and has visions which, somehow, make her qualified for understanding the evil that lurks in the shadows. (The visions hardly ever contribute to the overall vibe of the film. Merely serving as extra beef in an otherwise tension-less 96 minute hike).
It’s a mystery for sure, unraveling exactly how this presences came to fruition. Except, I felt like the titular character had more to say in “The Conjuring 2” then here (considering the creature is mostly off camera during the film). It helps that Farmiga and Bichir convincingly try to sell every ounce of the script, but its clear there’s nothing worth investing in.
After the 26th time hearing a faint glimmer of sound, or seeing a ghoul levitating in the hallway unseen, you grow a tolerance. And in return, you aren’t scared because you see everything coming - literally. If not for a climax that embodies the best of what this franchise used to be, “The Nun” would’ve been a total waste. At least with a halfway decent conclusion, you might be able to get away with a viewing on Netflix.
Still, I’d like to say that Hardy - at any given moment - amps up the thrills and grapples the audience into submission countless times. He doesn't. He settles for half-baked characters, and fails to stimulate the senses. But hey, it features lots of nuns attempting to pray the evil away!
Let us hope they were also praying for “The Conjuring” universe to come up with some fresh material.