Since its inception in 2013, “The Conjuring” franchise has been one of the most successful and well-crafted series in the horror genre, with the first film still standing the scariest movie of all-time, for me personally.
The rest of the franchise has, for the most part, done well to remain equally as scary as the first, aside from the first attempt at a spin-off with 2014’s “Annabelle.” After introducing the character in 2016’s “The Conjuring 2,” we’ve gotten another spin-off in the form of “The Nun.”
Sadly, just like the first “Annabelle” film, this spin-off struggles to get off the ground and stand on its own two legs, despite the titular antagonist being the most terrifying one in the franchise.
The film follows a priest (Demián Bichir, “Alien: Covenant”) and a novitiate (Taissa Farmiga, “American Horror Story”) who are sent by the Vatican to a monastery in 1952 Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun. They discover a terrifying secret being kept there surrounding the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons, “The Conjuring 2”).
From the opening recap of the film to the final tie-in with the rest of the franchise, there’s an overall tense and creepy atmosphere that really works for the most part, with English indie director Corin Hardy using the darker lighting and old architecture to play tricks on audiences’ minds.
As the characters walk the halls of the ancient monastery, audiences find themselves on the edge of their seats as they keep an eye open for any little movement or hint of a demonic presence nearby.
But as well as the atmosphere works, the scares themselves are completely lacking and leave audiences wanting more, given how well they’ve worked in previous movies.
As the first “Annabelle” film did, this one relies too much on jump scares to terrify audiences, but the issue is that they’re all too predictable to be afraid of.
While most might argue that the over-saturation of trailers and TV spots eliminates the fear from these scenes, I disagree, as the actual delivery on-screen can be much more terrifying. However in the case of “The Nun,” this argument isn’t entirely wrong, but it’s also the strict adherence to jump scare formula that make them ineffective.
In one attempt at a memorable scene, local man Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”) moves through a room full of spirits of dead nuns, during which certain spirits turn their heads toward him.
The scene is the epitome of predictable jump scares, as it’s easy to tell which spirits will turn their heads and when, taking audiences out of the attempt. Plus given how similar the scene is to film and video game franchise “Silent Hill,” it’s a routine and un-scary moment.
In addition to failed scares, the story itself is not all that profound or interesting, with the reveal of the “mystery” surrounding the monastery resulting in the lamest and most unoriginal part of the film. It felt like something more out of the “Thirteen Ghosts” remake than a “Conjuring” film.
The one aspect of the story that definitely redeems this film, though, is the final reveal of how it all ties back together. A twist that, though actually hinted at pretty well throughout the film, still results in a solid reveal.
The film is also partially saved thanks to a slew of strong performances from a game cast, although it’s slightly disappointing to have seen so little of Aarons in the horrifying titular role.
But the rest of the cast does a very strong job of inhabiting their characters, with Bichir delivering the dramatic depth of a priest questioning his mission, while Farmiga wonderfully plays an aspiring nun who, though holding beliefs the church might not be ready for, is still prepared to swear her devotion to God.
Overall, “The Nun” works really well as an atmospheric horror treat, but for true fans of “The Conjuring” franchise, the dull story and unscary events are sure to come as a disappointment.