The Nun review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A Catholic priest and a nun walk into a haunted church. Some spooky things happen and then they stop a demon that smacks them around a bit. It’s a joke that sounds a smidge funnier in context with The Nun, a Conjuring spin-off that diverges down paths of goofy jumpscare horror and confounding adventure movie territory. And, wow, is that Conjuring playbook getting dusty this time around.
It’s 1952 and the Vatican is in need of a rebellious duo to investigate a suicide at a Romanian church. Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is a priest that had previously performed an exorcism on a kid, but the disastrous result led him to drown his sorrows in crossword puzzles. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is a nun in training, the bad girl of her convent, but only because she tells tales of dinosaurs to the kids and doesn’t wear the habit that often. But she has a familiarity with the Romanian area so she’s just the pre-vow woman for the job. Together, along with local French-Canadian Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they’ll solve the mystery of the nun that hung herself. Unlike Scooby Doo, there’s a real demon behind this, sometimes with teeth and ghastly white skin.
The plot requires our characters to be extra gullible to pull off its haunted church angle. You know the drill: there’s something scary in the darkness and our heroes must walk slowly towards it, an arm outstretched. They’re so gullible for these tricks that at one point Father Burke will be led by a bell on a string. Now, I don’t mind so much that these characters are so dumb to stumble into these traps; I just thought I’d point that out. Their actions are excusable if the frights they’re blindly speeding towards are worth the stupidly. And it’s unfortunate that The Nun offers little variety. You’ll get your jumpscares and maybe a clever use of shadows, repeated from The Conjuring 2’s scariest scene with the nun painting, but the majority of the scares follow the same formula: something spooky is in the distance, turn away, turn back, it’s gone. I hope you like these types of terrors because it’s all you’re going to get for most of the movie.
So bereft of creative horror that by the third act the movie nearly abandons the genre altogether for an adventure movie. When the book ended character of Frenchie pops back up as the comical action hero, there’s an Indiana Jones style raiding afoot. Consider how the film shifts from trying to decipher the evil demon targeting nuns to traveling through underground tombs with torches to search for a relic containing the blood of Christ. It’s no wonder why Frenchie ditched the church for most of the movie. He belongs in an adventure picture and only pops up when something more his style comes to pass in this middling horror picture.
While The Nun ultimately disappoints in the fun department of its Conjuring predecessors, it has its small, almost microscopic moments of haunted house glee. The camera takes some interesting turns with pulling away, racing with the characters, and tilting deep as the demons start coming out to terrorize. There’s some unique staging of the church, even if it grows a little cliche with a spooky graveyard of many grosses and heavy mist. And it’s certainly a pleasing picture to watch with an audience that overreacts and freaks out to every scare. But when the most entertaining part of a horror movie is listening to someone in the audience cuss in a state of fear at the screen, there’s something missing in this horror franchise that is starting to get a little long in the creepy, demonic tooth.