(The following is a spoiler-free review of The Nun)
I suppose it’s kind of weird that quite a few of my movie reviews so far have been horror films. I’ve never really considered myself someone who watches primarily horror films, though I do enjoy the films on occasion. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m just drawn toward any film that promises me a good time. With horror, they tend to either be good or at least so bad they happen to wind up being good in a different way.
Before we dive right in to my review of The Nun, I think it’s important to say that it’s parent films The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 happen to be a couple of my favorite movies in the genre, because they have heart to go along with the spooks and scares. Some horror movies can get away with just being non-stop thrill rides that are paper-thin as far as plot and character go, but the movies in The Conjuring universe usually inject quite a bit of humanity into the film that make them not only good horror movies, but good movies in general. For instance, take this scene of Ed Warren singing to the children in The Conjuring 2. It provides a momentary break from the constant scares and adds humanity and depth to almost every member of the cast.
There’s nothing like this in The Nun. There are no heart-warming moments to break up the “horrifying” scares. It’s just scare after scare after scare, with little in the way of character or plot to get in the way of all the spooky…nunniness.
Which is all well and good. Scares are why we’re showing up to the theater anyway, right? Who needs all those “emotions” and “feelings” and “well-rounded characters” when there are jump-scares?
Well me. I need those things. And I didn’t get them from The Nun.
Listen kids. Valak showing up as the demonic nun was probably the creepiest part of The Conjuring 2. For the little time Valak is on-screen, he has a creepy commanding presence that still makes me hesitant to turn off my hallway light at night. Every scene in the movie in which Valak makes an appearance is filled with a slow building tension and sense of dread that usually pays off in a great and memorable scare. Watch this scene from start to finish to know what I’m talking about.
Then replace that kind of atmosphere and dread with terrible jump-scares and you basically have all of the horror arsenal that The Nun has to offer. You realize early on that the only card the movie has to play is the fact that you as the audience know the bad guy is a nun. And so it goes to that well over and over and OVER again until you start to laugh every time a nun with it’s back turned appears on screen. The movie wants you to be like “Oh God, is THIS one Valak???” But it pulls this stunt constantly throughout the entire movie, so that it had me actually laughing towards the end of the film. The amount of nuns with their backs turned as the protagonist slowly approaches them is obscenely high. I get it movie, your bad guy is a scary nun. But feel free to mix it up every now and then.
There are maybe a couple of good scenes in the movie where it gets the horror right. These are when the movie slows down enough to allow the atmosphere to start to build, but they aren’t nearly often enough. Almost every other scare in the movie is a super lazy jump-scare or just laughably bad. There’s a part so ridiculous that I turned to my girlfriend and said “Don’t worry, this is just a character’s nightmare. There’s no way the movie would jump the shark like that.” But nope. It was an actual thing happening to an actual character in what was supposed to be a serious horror film.
And speaking of that, I’m just going to go into light spoiler territory here. Feel free to start again at the next paragraph if you don’t want it spoiled. But this movie has legitimate zombies in it. Like…dead corpses brought back to life. A film franchise who’s entire premise is that it’s based on real-life events that could conceivably have happened (ghosts and demons aren’t too outlandish for most people to stomach) straight up says that zombies are a thing. And it isn’t just a one-off freak accident, either. There are a surprisingly high number of zombies in this movie. It immediately pulled me all the way out of the movie and made it hard for me to reinvest myself in it. The Conjuring films have only tiptoed the line between conceivable events and obvious make-believe, but The Nun dives head-first into “Now we’re in movieland” storytelling without paying any of its dues to the Warrens or their relatively grounded story. It was just unexpected, and frankly wasn’t something that I was crazy about. A cursed doll I can sort of wrap my head around. Ghosts? Sure. Demons? Maybe. Animated corpses? Not so much.
The cast does an okay job, I guess. Taissa Farmiga isn’t quite as compelling as her older sister Vera (who plays Lorraine Warren in the two Conjuring films, oddly enough), but her character is probably the best in the movie. I really liked Taissa’s run on American Horror Story, and I’m happy to see her getting other work. Demián Bichir isn’t tremendously memorable, but I don’t really think that’s his fault at all. His character doesn’t have a ton of personality and it almost seems at times that he’s a third wheel in his own plot. The other lead played by Jonas Bloquet is probably the most charismatic of the trio, though some people might find his role as comic relief to be a bit grating. I didn’t really mind him too much, but that’s just because I think films like this need those comic moments interwoven with the horror in order to add contrast to the scary moments.
The bottom-line is: if you’re looking to go out on a weekend night just to get startled a few times, then this movie is probably something that you’d enjoy. If you’re like me and you’d rather a horror film be atmospheric and leave you uneasy hours after you’ve left the theater, you can probably skip this one. Unfortunately, The Nun is just a pretty forgettable film. It also does the disservice of making The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 worse by association, so that kind of sucks. But it isn’t the end of the world.
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