Review: The Nun (2018)

Director: Corin Hardy

Stars: Taissa Farmiga, Bonnie Aarons, Demián Bichir

Marvel may well be 20 films into their unstoppable juggernaut – having secured millions of new fans in the process – but building and sustaining a cinematic universe isn’t that easy. The rise of the unexpected Conjuring universe is a case in point. James Wan’s ambition is all well and good, but the follow-through is another matter. His box of ideas isn’t actually all that generously stocked, and The Nun showcases this to the series’ considerable detriment. Future successes suddenly seem very uncertain.

This time we’re moving back to 1952 to inquire into the origins of the titular nun (Bonnie Aarons), who proved a spooky highlight in series peak The Conjuring 2. Like Annabelle before it, this is a lacklustre prequel to a hit movie, but where Annabelle simply underwhelmed, The Nun comes apart before your eyes until you’re left with one of the most ridiculous messes in modern pop horror.

Vatican priest Father Burke (nominal lead Demián Bichir) is dispatched to Romania where a nun’s suicide has caused a minor stir. He travels via England, of course, to pick up American Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), whose history of visions has travelled on the international grapevine, y’know, somehow. She’s on the eve of taking her vows, but sets this aside to investigate a haunted abbey several hundred miles away. Duty calls, as they say. They are guided to the (admittedly tremendous) gothic building by a local Frenchman (Jonas Bloquet), who is quite staggering referred to throughout what follows as ‘Frenchie’ (“FRENCHIE!!!!”), robbing any scene he’s included in of any dramatic credibility.

On arrival, few things add up. Why are there fresh bloodstains when the hanging occurred weeks ago? Where is everybody? What’s going on in that misty graveyard? Father Burke tells Irene that these are puzzle pieces. Unfortunately for all concerned, there isn’t really a solution.

Director Corin Hardy gets a lot of value out of his setting, and in fairness to the film, the first half of The Nun is something approaching adequate. There’s more than an echo of the gothic horrors of Mario Bava or some of the old Hammer films, albeit with none of the requisite invention. Still, a mood of a kind grows, mostly one of curiosity, to see where all these breadcrumb trails are leading.

The answer is nowhere. Bichir’s Father Burke is a puzzling redundancy, seemingly only present to get himself locked in a series of troubling spaces and perform 15 second exorcisms. Bloquet’s accent is all over the map and the film is effortlessly better off when he’s sidelined for a good forty minutes. Farmiga does some solid work, but mostly she looks dizzied by the deluge of cheap shocks that are hurled at the camera with ever-ratcheting speed.

Having dawdled for half of its running time, The Nun doesn’t just open up the toy box; it spills the entire contents all over the floor. Every hackneyed gimmick and cliché is rolled out to absolutely no effect. And it is unending. Scenarios crash into and pile-up on top of one another with clearly no thought as to how it all fits together.

Barely glimpsed children running away laughing for no reason? They never were scary in Insidious and they certainly aren’t scary here. Cheap jumps from off-screen timed to a cacophonous soundtrack sting? Spare us. Ghosts that can only manifest for a split second? Sure, why not. Zombies? Err, okay. Magic grave-digging? And all with the identical pay-off that, no, none of it is really happening; everything is just a sinister ghostly prank on our devout paranormal investigators. Why? BECAUSE OF EVIL.

Then things get really goofy. By the third act we’re in full-on Indiana Jones territory, crossed with every ill-conceived 90’s fantasy movie in which it still seemed cool to turn the camera upside down during anything remotely mystical. Turns out there’s a hellmouth of sorts in the abbey that looks a lot like an irritated butthole and – SPOILER ALERT – Sister Irene needs to pour some of Jesus’ actual blood into it out of a glass trinket you’d eye suspiciously at a flea market.

This stuff is so ridiculous that the movie actually manages to resurface into a realm of fevered fun, in which honestly anything goes because, evidently, who gives a fuck? The return of Frenchie (“FRENCHIE!!!!”) heralds a deluded spiral of so-bad-it’s-good hokum, the zenith of which is this immortal dialogue exchange:

“The blood of Jesus!”

“Holy shit!”

“The holiest!”

Yeah.

So, in a sense, The Nun does turn out to be a bit of fun, but not nearly the kind of fun its intending to be. The titular menace, otherwise known as Valek, is mostly laughable, and barely registers, while the plot itself has more holes than the bombed abbey these poor fools are stumbling around in. The Nun is dumb as a bag of hammers, but a lot less useful. How badly written is it? There’s literally a gun on the wall.

What’s worrying, though, is how familiar these inelegantly assembled tricks are. Everything is a variation of something James Wan and co. have presented before, only this time rolled out with far, far less care. If this is all these movies are going to be able to offer going forward, then here’s hoping they call time on the whole endeavour very soon.

I still love seeing horror movies in the cinema, so I’m hoping for a reversal of fortune down the road, but new ideas are definitely required after this laughable waste of everybody’s time. Is there any real reason to spend your money on The Nun, besides the baffling Frenchie? (“FRENCHIE!!!!”)

Nun that I can advise.

(Had to)

Score:  1.5

 

 

 

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