Quickfire set-pieces and a rush to jolt the nerves leaves The Nun in search of a plot that makes sense and characters that matter.
The Nun’s preoccupation with quiet-quiet-bang horror film structure fails to hide the frailties in its forgettable plot. Neither can the film’s aesthetic qualities – thanks to cinematographer Maxime Alexandre – elevate this sleep-inducing tale of mysterious convents, malevolent apparitions and hell portals.
The film certainly makes the most of its $22 million budget as its looks great and some of Alexandre’s graceful shots, beautifully lit with a subtle, foreboding focus on leaving some areas of the frame in complete darkness, gives this supernatural effort a stylistic push in the right direction. Only that here that direction is overseen by The Hallow filmmaker Corin Hardy who, in this attempt to continue The Conjuring’s connected universe, falls short in part because the script (by Gary Dauberman) leaves a lot to be desired.
Dauberman’s not a hack. He was responsible for the excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s novel It. But here, for whatever reason, his work seems lazy. There’s a by-the-numbers formula to proceedings that leaves the film a long way behind some of the year’s best horror movies such as Hereditary.
The Nun’s opening – a set-piece sequence involving a pair of nuns discovering a mysterious doorway and its paranormal inhabitant – feels misplaced, giving audiences an early jolt but betraying the film’s sense of unsettling ambiguity. When Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) head to the convent to investigate the death of one of the sisters, the disquiet of the unknown isn’t a factor given that we’ve already seen so much.
Hardy’s background as a music video director may enable him to utilise stylistic extravagance to concoct the odd moment of pleasing “shock and awe” cinema but in showing his hand from the first minute he has little left up his sleeve to surprise us. Together, the director and screenwriter combine detrimentally as each fails to have the restraint to let the story properly breathe. Deciding that the audience has a short attention span, the film keeps on firing with scenes like Burke getting buried alive and Irene locked in a dead nun’s room to be awakened by something rather nasty. Unfortunately, Hardy and Dauberman’s shots are blanks.
As the plot unravels to a messy finale that is anything but subtle, The Nun leaves us wondering what it was really about. As a backstory to the creepy Marilyn Manson-like creature witnessed in The Conjuring, the film takes everything that was frightening about that character and makes it appear as a Marvel-like supervillain with bad teeth and egomania. Valak, as the character becomes known, emerges from the darkness as a caricature of evil and loses every bit its troubling, enigmatic presence.
Pandering to the box office is forgivable. The Nun accomplished a huge profit in 2018 so it obviously did certain things right. But it isn’t a horror film you’re likely to return to. Its scares are superficial, its sense of fun forgettable, and its limited plot lacking dramatic interest. In short, it’s actually a very dull affair; the quickfire set-pieces and rush to jolt the nerves again leaving the story and its principle characters playing second fiddle to Hardy’s light show. By the time the director has Jonas Bloquet’s “Frenchie” delivering anticlimactic sarcasm in the final third for some misplaced laughs, I was too distracted by the actor’s fluctuating accent to care who lived, who died, and who might come back for the sequel.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Corin Hardy
Written by: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons
Released: 2018 / Genre: Horror
Country: USA / IMDB
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The Nun is available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD now.