Spin-offs are dead, long live the expanded universe. Marvel led the way when it came to creating a multi movie franchise consisting of stand-alone films that weave into a greater narrative. Naturally, others followed. Not consigned to the superhero genre, horror has jumped on the bandwagon. While James Wan’s The Conjuring may have seemed an unlikely candidate for this vehicle, it paved the way for two Annabelle movies. The Conjuring 2 introduced characters that were promised their own instalments in The Nun and The Crooked Man. The entries thus far have been highly lucrative and, with the exception of the first Annabelle, well received critically. No pressure then.
Set in 1952, almost twenty years before The Conjuring, the Vatican learn of the suicide of a young nun at the Carta Monastery in Romania. They send the unlikely duo of Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and the novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Assisted by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the young man who found the dead nun’s body, it doesn’t take long for them to discover they’re in over their heads. For there is an unholy evil trapped within the monastery, one that will prey on their weaknesses and exploit their fears.
Corin Hardy takes the helm for The Nun in what is only his second directorial feature. He has crafted a visually atmospheric haunted house horror that provides some terrifying set pieces. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography is stunningly ghastly, with an old school Hammer inspired misted veil draped over the cemetery scenes. The film is unfortunately let down by its script. With James Wan and Gary Dauberman developing the story, The Nun is woven into the Conjuring mythology while expanding the backstory. However the expository flashbacks seem misplaced in relation to the other entries and even its own movie. It becomes a little convoluted and raises questions of how this will all tie together, if indeed it will, or whether each entry will contribute to a grander overarching plot with no relatable conclusion. If anything, The Nun introduces a potential new character should they choose to throw another demon into a standalone movie. Once this universe learned to run it hasn’t stopped.
The characters are a little bland and offer little depth passed the generic tropes of the troubled priest and novice nun. There is little chemistry between the characters who both feel like they’re in their own movie, following their own path and meeting at the end more by necessity than a narrative conclusion.
To his credit, Hardy doesn’t go for fake out jump scares. Instead he wants each fright to mean something, even if he’s not always successful in scaring us. The most haunting scene in the film comes when the camera is allowed to linger, creating an eerie tension that is more effective than its payoff.
The third act veers slightly into Evil Dead 2 territory with much of the humour throughout missing the mark. It jars slightly and by the end its guilty of too much show and tell. Little is left to the imagination of what lurks in the corner, instead everything is laid out for us.
A decent entry to the franchise, it’s also one of the rarer weaker ones. With talks of a sequel, I hope the follow-up will be of better quality much like Annabelle: Creation was to its predecessor. The Nun’s appeal is strange in that it will best appeal to The Conjuring Universe while likely to be criticised more by that same audience. As a stand-alone film, it may leave many scratching their heads with the final scene. There is much on offer to enjoy, but you may be a little disappointed that you won’t need to leave the light on come bedtime.