Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy
Notable Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Demian Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Ingrid Bisu, Charlotte Hope, Sandra Teles, August Maturo

There was a lot of talk about The Nun leading up to its release. Not only about the titular demon, which was featured as a villain in the fantastic The Conjuring 2, but about the marketing. There was little known about the plot, the characters, and what The Nun would actually be about leading up to the release. Most of the marketing featured jump scares centered around the piercing eyed monster and plenty of gimmicky one-liners. Hell, we didn’t even really get a true trailer for the film. It was mostly bits and pieces of teasers. At first, I thought this was rather clever. The villain was enough reason to see the film, combined with the overall success of the franchise, but now that The Nun is unleashed in the megaplexes it was almost necessary that the film never unveiled its plotting or narrative. Why? The one it has is a fucking mess. The Nun is a film that has its merits, at least in moments, but it does not live up to being part of The Conjuring cinematic universe. It flounders around with its concept and mostly delivers eye-rolls for the audience rather than scares. 

"My sister said this was a good gig."
The Conjuring films are hardly original. Even the much-praised original film is just a slick and well executed homage to the haunted house and possession films of the past, particularly those from the 70s era. That’s the thing though. When these films work, it’s because of two things. They have strong classic horror execution and they have characters with heart. The Nun has neither of those. There is a narrative and plot that might have worked in concept where our heroes are sent to investigate the death of a nun at an abbey in the mountains of Europe, but within 15 minutes of the start it’s obvious that this film was going to continually feel rushed in its writing and poorly built in its narrative. It feels like a series of thinly pieced together scare sequences more than a real story and it often leaves a thousand more questions about everything rather than help the audience understand some of the origins of its demon. The scare sequences are incredibly cliché, failing to inspire the frights, atmosphere, or terror of other films of the series and, quite honestly, come off as eye-rolling instead of effective. There are moments in the film that work, one sequence in particular where Taissa Farmiga’s character has a vision that leads to a head over heels physics bending moment in a hallway, but most are fleeting and forgotten quickly as the film moves onto the next scare.

Despite its poorly developed narrative, the worst part of The Nun actually belongs to how it mishandles the two main characters. The lead characters are fascinating and ripe for continued exploration. The audience is introduced to a Vatican backed “miracle chaser” priest who investigates odd phenomena and a young nun in training who…is there for some reason because of something in her past. To add to it, this film nails the casting of these two. In particular, Taissa Farmiga (sister to The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga) is developed as a character who sees visions and seems in tune with religious supernatural elements – similar to Mrs. Warren from The Conjuring. Unfortunately, the film drops the ball on even doing the smallest of things to get an audience to enjoy spending time with either of them as Farmiga spends most of her time meandering around screaming at things and Bichir just generally looks concerned and worries about this ghost boy. Both characters are given some forced back story, Bichir’s priest gets a super generic one in a brief flashback, but none of it really works. The brilliance of The Conjuring is its focus on love, hope, and heart with the characters to run parallel to the evil and terror, but The Nun tragically forgets to add those into the story.

Oh yes, I forgot to add there is a French-Canadian delivery man that helps them out. He also serves as some comedic relief. You won’t blame me for forgetting him.

Classic over the shoulder watching. 
Naturally, the stories, narrative, and characters can come and go, but a general movie going audience seeing a horror film in theaters want one thing: really cool scares. In this aspect, The Nun…still fails to deliver. Again, as mentioned before with the hallway sequence, it has its moments, but scares and the visual trickery of faceless nuns, creepy candlelit abbeys, and enough crosses to make Dracula’s head explode only work if the tension, narrative, and characters keep the audience engaged. That is sadly missing from this film and it often feels more like watching characters work their way through a haunted house attraction than anything. It’s disconnected. Director Corin Hardy, who gave us the excellent The Hallow a few years ago, seems to understand how to replicate the James Wan visual look of stylized lighting and the use of space, but the film has a script that does him no favors and the film reeks of mass produced studio fare. It simply doesn’t spend the time to set up scares and horror to make them work. The audience has no sense of the abbey as a setting (a tactic that Wan and Sandberg use spectacularly in their previous Conjuring-verse entries) and entire scare sequences are jammed into the film. Don’t even ask about the buried alive sequence in the first act because none of it makes sense and it might be the most forced one in the film.

The Nun had a lot of potential. It has a great villain, which is used in a similar manner to The Conjuring 2 as more of a presence than anything in this film, and there are interesting characters that deserve to exist in a much better film. The film itself is a disaster of narrative and script. Most of the scares and character beats are forced and the film glosses over all of the important stuff for the horror to work and tries to convince its audience that the scares are suuuuuuuper scary. Considering the film is going make all the money on its opening weekend, there’s almost no doubt that there will be another The Nun film (if they don’t call it The Nun 2: Breaking the Habit, they’ve missed out) and the good news is that there really is only one direction to go – up. If the Annabelle films are any indication, this can be done. For now though, The Nun remains one of the biggest disappointments in horror this year and only Conjuring fans are recommended to see it.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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