Few would’ve thought when The Conjuring came out in 2014, that it would kick off one of the best examples of a successful shared cinematic universe. That said, The Nun, an origin story from a character introduced in The Conjuring 2, is as Wonder Woman is to DC, a fresh, almost-standalone tale that goes further into the past to create the series’ best entry yet.
The year is 1952, and a nun in a remote Romanian abbey has mysteriously hung herself. Catholic Priest Father Burke (Demián Bichir) has been sent by the papacy to investigate, taking novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) along with him. They join handsome rogue, and wayward French-Canadian (Conjuring nerds will know why he’s from Canada) Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) to look into the nunnery, uncovering all kind of creepy happenings — including zombie nuns, demon nuns and ghost nuns — along the way.
The advantage horror movies such as The Nun have over any other genre is the complete suspension of logic granted to the audience. When supernatural beings are involved, its easy to accept absurdity, allowing directors to really push the boundaries of spectacle and play purely with form. The Nun understands this freedom, taking the conventions of the haunted-house genre to create a visually arresting exploration of good vs evil. Its hard to know what’s real and what’s not, but its even harder to care, as the movie is so viscerally enjoyable that all practical considerations go out of the window.
The Conjuring franchise works because it takes Christianity seriously. Its characters, as vessels of Christ, ground the fight against pure evil in a strong religious context. The traditional habit a nun wears is exploited constantly here, Irene’s white novice habit strikingly contrasted, like in a Western, against the black of those she is investigating. These conventional symbols work dramatically without the film having to rely on too much unnecessary exposition. Bolstering this is the post-WW2 setting. Evil in the abbey is reawakened as a result of a bombing campaign (by both the Allies and the Luftwaffe — poor Romania). This concept of evil entering as a result of war gives the Conjuring franchise a unifying ethos. It is mankind that let this evil into the world, and it is mankind who must banish it back once again. Therefore, unlike the recent Hereditary, which rather preferred to give into despair than fight it, The Nun actually feels kind of uplifting — catharsis rather than despondency.
Dampening this sense of catharsis, however, are the poor line-readings, which in defining moments should be reeled off with relish but instead hinder Gary Dauberman’s witty screenplay. While Taissa Farmiga has the face and posture of a real scream queen, and the quivering line-readings to go with it, her co-stars don’t fare so well with delivery, sinking the film when it should be taking off.
Running at only 96 minutes, as opposed to its predecessor’s excessive 134, The Nun is easily the tightest movie in the franchise. Although bookmarked by the Warren’s adventures in both The Conjuring and its sequel, it works perfectly well for newbies to the series. For one thing, I’ll never look at a nun in the same way again.
The Nun | Directed by Corin Hardy (USA, 2018) with Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Demián Bichir . Starts September 6.
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