THE NUN is a spin-off of THE CONJURING 2. Chronologically, it is the first entry in the CONJURING extended universe. On its own, THE NUN is a halfway operative horror with plenty of impulsive scares to keep the ball rolling. As part of the series, it’s just another brick in the wall.
Directed by Corin Hardy from a Gary Dauberman screenplay, THE NUN is rife with religious imagery. But the potential for thoughtful horror is hardly met, as there’s very little doctrinal meat to chew on notwithstanding the context. The 2018 picture plays it safe and tempts with tropes, providing what amounts to a deflecting and benign piece of entertainment – for the most part.
Demián Bichir gets to have fun as Father Burke, a Vatican official sent to investigate the apparent suicide of a nun in Romania. Father Burke takes Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) along. She’s a prospective nun. The duo checks out the situation and get very little by way of cooperation. The mystery deepens as an entity takes hold in the abbey, threatening everyone.
There’s some decent if tentative underpinning to the relationship between Father Burke and Sister Irene. She’s a sort of rebel nun, as she teaches youngsters about the importance of asking questions. She contrasts nicely with Bichir’s character, who seems to have a dark past and has made some mistakes along the way.
These character traits don’t pan out to any great degree and little is made about any seeming doubt or questioning of faith. The religious backdrop provides a lot of imagery in the form of dangling crosses and the like, but it’s hard to say THE NUN is overly concerned with the religious subtext beyond its use as a scary milieu.
Visual representation is the name of the game for Hardy’s picture and that’s fine so long as it distracts. Watching Bonnie Aarons’ petrifying nun gust around the miserable halls of Saint Cartha’s is good for a few chuckle-tempered thrills and the general aesthetic is eerie enough if not habit-forming.
THE NUN does take the odd risk or two, like when Sister Irene has a certain throaty expulsion toward the end, but its patterns are apparent within minutes if not seconds. A line from Jonas Bloquet’s character about his French Canadian heritage may be one of the best moments in the whole shebang.
The argument can be made that dim, hazy religious imagery is as spine-chilling as any. The vision and sound of a nun praying in a dead language is good for sneaking up on, sure, but what else is there? THE NUN suffers from its own dead end and tries to make do with mood and tone. For the most part, it entertains. But it’s also a highly evanescent experience, one that scatters as soon as the credits roll.