Did we need a comprehensive backstory of Valak, the demonic nun from The Conjuring: Chapter 2? Probably not, so it’s a good thing that The Nun deals more in atmosphere than exposition, tying only tangentially back to its parent franchise in ways that seldom interfere with its operation as a discrete entity. The Nun functions according to its own warped sensibilities, and were it not for a third act coda that elucidates the connection to the other four Conjuring films, it might as well have existed in its own universe. Yes, the story’s absurd, and the performances are irredeemably wooden, but it’s also a movie set in a creepy castle in Transylvania (OK, fine, Romania) — and speaking as someone who grew up obsessed with cheap horror movies, that alone can be enough to sustain my interest.
While throwbacks to ’70s horror have been de rigueur for some time now, films tracing their inspiration back to the high-Gothic camp of the Hammer or AIP films of the ’60s have been significantly more rare. And The Nun is definitely in that vein, complete with a carriage ride to a spooky medieval castle in the Carpathians, creepy cemeteries with all the trimmings and some bloviating occult rituals — the only thing it’s missing is Peter Cushing or Vincent Price and some bats.
But as much as I can laud the atmospherics from a nostalgic standpoint, The Nun is still a profoundly dumb film. Gary Dauberman’s script, such as it is, basically consists of the rudiments of a narrative stringing together a bunch of jump scares and set pieces with precious little room left for character development or story structure, resulting in a film that feels more like an excuse to play in a fun sandbox than a movie that stemmed from any sense of creative necessity. This is, after all, a film in which a character aptly named Frenchie is confronted with a relic containing the blood of Christ and loudly proclaims “Holy shit!” Hopefully, that should give you an accurate indication of the level of writing on display here — which is at odds with Dauberman’s work as sole screenwriter on It and does not bode well for It: Chapter 2, unless he just takes those movies much more seriously than this one.
If director Corin Hardy has nailed the tone and atmosphere he was going for, that doesn’t exactly elevate the film. The profusion of jump scares kills any sort of pacing he might have developed, and his leads are effectively dead in the water. While that may not exactly be their fault given the script, Demián Bichir at least brings some gravitas to his turn as a grizzled priest appointed by the Vatican to investigate “miracles” or whatever the opposite thereof might be. Taissa Farmiga is slightly less effective in an ingenue role as a neophyte nun in over her head, and Jonas Bloquet is suitably ridiculous as the aforementioned Frenchie, who proudly proclaims that he is, in fact, French Canadian, and then tries to ramp up his accent as if to prove the point.
Does anybody really care if the demon from The Conjuring: Chapter 2 was actually summoned in a Romanian castle and then sent back to hell by some chronologically misplaced Knights Templar and kept there by a bunch of perpetually praying nuns until a World War II bombing run unleashes it again? Of course not. And that’s really all the story there is here. So if you’re looking for something deeper, go see The Little Stranger. But if you’re good with bad, you could do worse than The Nun.