Movie Review: The Nun

The Nun wastes a distinctive antagonist on a plot filled with repetitive standard-issue scares and horror cliches, turning a slow-burn religious mystery into a hackneyed spin-off.

When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of the same demonic nun that first terrorized audiences in The Conjuring 2, as the abbey becomes a horrific battleground between the living and the damned.

With the popularity of The Conjuring and the recent revelations of abuse in orphanages across the world, a standalone horror about a demonic nun is timely.

The Nun is the origins story for Valak The Defiler. Cinematographer Maxime Alenxandre is able to use lighting effectively, creating shadows and manipulating light to build an atmosphere. It’s a religious mystery with a touch of action adventure as the church orders an investigation in a cloistered convent.

There’s an immediate feeling that you’re in for old school scares made more evident by three character staples in a subgenre where nuns often automatically come with the story. There’s the priest serving as an investigator who has seen enough shit that he can casually pick a relic from a creepy dead body. He meets the good-hearted nun who’s chosen as his companion for a reason that will be revealed later. And last but not the least is the likeable Lothario who conveniently lives nearby and becomes their guide.

The cast do their best despite being given one-note characters. Taissa Farmiga proves that she’s not just there because she looks like Lorraine (Vera Farmiga is her sister).  Jonas Bloquet is amusing as a comic relief. Gabriel Byrne could have played Father Burke but Demián Bichir plays him well enough as a brooding priest saddled with guilt.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the performances are and how perfect the amount of  light is placed at the right spot, The Nun is shackled to B-movie offerings that wastes its distinctive antagonist.

The Nun’s backstory is so uninspired that it would have been better off unexplained. The you-shouldn’t-have-went-there story is made worse by gaping plot holes and horror cliches. Apparently the blood of Jesus Christ isn’t a powerful enough superglue against man made weapons of mass destruction.  So The Defiler is hanging around an empty convent until three interlopers came snooping around.

The horror sequence (bait, lure, scare) gets repetitive fast. So do the cheap jump scares. There’s one interesting scene here where Valak makes a brief introduction in Irene’s vision. But the rest of the movie just uses the same tricks for its already familiar horror elements.

Towards the end The Defiler appears too little too late in an outrageous ending. By this time, you’ll realize that the trailers have all the best parts of the movie.

The Conjuring, which has now grown into a franchise-making cinematic universe, has never explicitly stated that they’re here to offer something groundbreaking. But they could’ve at least done something creative and let Valak have some fun. Characters worth emotionally investing in would be great too – a huge part of The Conjuring’s appeal is the chemistry between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson which turned questionable real life characters into a charming loving couple that you can easily root for.

The Nun deserved better.

My Rating: 4/10

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