It was only an idea. A nun with sunken, glowing eyes silhouetted against the backdrop of a darkened easel. Its presence evoked a sickening unease more powerful than the premise of its movie itself or its predecessor, and its unknown origins provided a blank canvas from which imaginations could draw up only the most horrid reasons for its existence. It’s given name was Valak, a demon, but that’s all it was – it was only an idea. Despite its dominance as the main antagonist of 2016’s The Conjuring 2, there wasn’t much more to Valak the creepy demon nun than a haunting portrait, some skulking in the shadows, and an over-the-top final battle with Patrick Wilson that still proved more affecting than anything in the nun’s titular 2018 debut. The original nun provided nightmare fodder in the subsequent months after the The Conjuring 2’s release almost identical to that of Annabelle, the malevolent plaything that stole the show in 2014’s franchise kick-starter, The Conjuring, which led to not just one spinoff, but two, with similarly lackadaisical results.
So then there’s The Nun – a half-hearted, slapdash of almost-creepy imagery, strung together by a plot that hangs limply to the fabric of the film like broken stitching and a criminal misuse of Taissa Farmiga, the talented young actress of American Horror Story fame and younger sister of Vera (more-than-coincidentally Lorraine Warren in Conjurings 1 and 2, and who it’s certain the franchise will try to scrounge a canon connection between). Her character, Sister Irene, a would-be nun who has not yet taken her vows, is ripped away from her time teaching little Catholic children that despite what the older nuns say, dinosaurs really did exist and creationism is lowkey bullshit, by Father Burke (Demiàn Bichir). He wants Sister Irene to assist him on a Vatican-approved mission to a Romanian abbey, where some stuff’s been going down that’s not quite Kosher. You see, a nun went and hanged herself and word gets around fast in the Catholic circles, along with sister Irene’s penchant for foresight and the abbey’s notoriety for being haunted as fuck. In an opening scene, we see the forthcoming deceased nun and an older nun attempting to contain the evil that can be safely assumed as Valak from within the abbey, but no dice. The older nun is taken by the evil, and the second nun flees to her voluntary demise.
And, well… there’s really not much else to say. Irene and Burke arrive at the abbey with their new buddy, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a man from the nearby town who delivers food to the abbey and whose personality is a contrived compilation of other wannabe ladies’ man comedic reliefs. From the other nuns in the abbey whose duty it is to contain the evil within it, Irene learns that Valak is an ancient demon who was attempted to be resurrected by the abbey’s original owner, an occult-crazy duke, and the abbey was his palace. Though the duke was nearly unsuccessful in his endeavors, World War II rolled around and shit got bumpy. All the guns and bombs disturbed the fortress containing Valak and now he’s out and about, posing as a nun and spooking the little sisters, partying it up in the catacombs and creeping around just to be a dick. The trio of nun, father, and Frenchie gets spooked all the while; cameras do that thing where they pan around a character until suddenly there’s something lurking behind them, Valak gets his unnecessary backstory, the R rating is wasted on a paltry amount gore and blood, yadda yadda yadda yadda… word limit reached yet?
If there’s anything to be taken away from the newest segue of The Conjuring franchise it’s that ideas should be left as they are. A standout aspect of a film should be kept within the framework of that movie alone, and to deign to consider that expanding upon such an aspect to feature length would result in an equally, if not more-so engaging and efficacious experience is a murky endeavor at best. The nun excels in The Conjuring 2 because we are offered only a glimpse into its existence; Annabelle excels in The Conjuring for this very same reason. We are possessed by these bits and pieces because to fill in the spaces in between would remove a mystery that’s terrifying in and of itself. The idea of not knowing is scarier than its given credit for, and what it seems like many horror writers and directors and franchises are willing to consider. Overloading audiences with reason and backstory more often than not effectively does away with potential intrigue, and robs audiences of the truly disturbing horror movie experience that they crave.
The result of The Nun, and of the Annabelle films alike, is a forgettable jumble of information we never needed, of jump scares that terrify us only in the moment, and underdeveloped characters we’ve been given no reason to care about and whose consequences are meaningless, all of which does nothing to enhance the experience of being scared by these admittedly very creepy characters. Even the mildly unsettling gothic imagery and bleak atmosphere can’t make up for a lack of genuine cultivated fear, which diminishes any effects from visuals that are made more goofy than creepy, augmenting a final battle that doesn’t feel earned. Valak should have been left where we found him in The Conjuring 2; as more of a feeling than a villain, whose origins could be allowed to fester in the darkest realm of our nightmares. Instead, The Nun ends up as a film that begins its exit from your memory as soon as you step out of the theater. Pray the heat death of the universe has happened before The Crooked Man.
by Brianna Zigler
Brianna Zigler is a graduate in Film-Video and Writing from Penn State University with big plans and not a lot of planning. She is passionate about film and writing about film and also talking about film but can’t really decide which she wants to do with her life, but it’s not a big deal (that’s future Brianna’s problem). She loves horror, absurdism, Twin Peaks, is a die-hard Wes Anderson fan, and currently has almost 250 movies in her watchlist. Her favorite films are What We Do in the Shadows, A Serious Man, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Swiss Army Man, and Suspiria. She met Greg Sestero once and it was weird. You can follow her on Twitter @briannazigs