Catholicism and its iconography have always been a hallmark of the franchise built around The Conjuring, so one would hope that a movie called The Nun would showcase this particular cinematic universe at its most fearfully creative vertex. Nope. The Nun is a dopey mishmash with nary an original idea under its wimple.
More than likely, you’ve seen the advertisements for this film. You may have even seen the advertisements about the advertisements. “This trailer made a woman vomit out of sheer fright!” “Ushers forced to ritually cleanse a theater after showing this trailer!” The film clips in those commercials are jump scares which, hilariously, work better outside of The Nun than they do within it. Within the context of the actual film, they thud to the theater floor like a half-filled popcorn bucket.
The story is wafer thin, one horror fans have seen hundreds of times before. There’s a convent in Romania where the Vatican fears bad things are happening, so they send a priest and a novitiate prone to having religious visions to investigate. What they find is a convoluted series of incidents all designed to tenuously connect this film to The Conjuring 2 while making no sense outside of that singular purpose. There are two kinds of dialogue in The Nun: story explanation and screaming. Somewhere within the misadventures of Father Dimwit and Sister Exposition, we get to see the hideous demon known as Valak who has taken the form of, and I know this will shock you, a nun. Meanwhile, each scene tries to position itself as more frightening than the previous one, turning the entire movie into a boring and silly game of double dare.
Hardcore horror fans could make a fine drinking game out of pointing out sequences or specific shots that have been ripped off wholesale from other films. Here’s a hint: brush up on the works of Lucio Fulci and both National Treasure movies. There may not be grounds for legal action (not that The Conjuring movies are any stranger to the wonderful world of law suits), but if you know, you know, and you won’t be able to unsee the similarities.
The cast here is game. Taissa Farmiga does the absolute best with the pablum she’s given to spew, but it’s hard to make a line like, “I now know that my visions were given to me by God,” sound convincing. Practically all the spoken lines are that stiff and hoary. When a nun says, “The evil is growing quickly,” it’s difficult not to respond with a hearty, “No shit!”
I did mumble a lot throughout this movie, and at one point accidentally muttered, “For fuck’s sake,” loudly enough for others to hear. This is not my normal cinema behavior, and I apologize to whomever I may have offended. But I writhed through The Nun. I rubbed my forehead in an attempt to stave off the headache I knew was coming as a result of all the stupid. It did not work. I watch garbage movies for my column all the time and The Nun is the worst film I’ve seen all year.
If nothing else, The Nun proves that a good marketing campaign can sell just about anything. I was excited for the film and didn’t go into it with any amount of cynicism. The fact that I can’t even come up with a blurbable pun to finish this review should be an indicator of just how much fun I did not have. If you have a tremendous fear of upside-down crosses, upside-down stars, or Benedictines in general, there may be some fun little frights for you in this movie. Everyone else should wait for The Nun to hit Netflix, queue it up, then find some true crime series with lots of overhead drone shots of forests to watch instead.