By: Christian Harding (Four Beers) –
You get a cinematic universe! He gets a cinematic universe! She gets a cinematic universe! *Everyone* gets a cinematic universe! Yes, it would appear as if we’re still neck deep in the whole shared universe craze that Hollywood won’t stop running with, as if standalone features are soooooo 2012! Heck, it seems like these days all it takes to get one going is making one well-received, financially successful genre film and then before you know it, all manner of sequels and spin-offs are greenlit overnight. Case in point, the Conjuring cinematic universe, which now consists of the two main films in the series, as well as a pair of prequels staring the cursed Annabelle doll. And now we’ve been blessed (or cursed) with the latest addition to the series in The Nun, which is centered around a demonic entity who first appeared in The Conjuring 2. So, how does this latest horror outing fare, especially compared to the rest of the series? Uhmm… pray for us…
So before unleashing an unholy torrent of shit upon this demonic cash-grab, there are indeed a few positives to be found herein; namely, the leading performance by Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of The Conjuring headliner Vera Farmiga – and no, there’s no connection between the two films to be found here, at least in that regard), which is actually fairly solid. The character of Sister Irene is written pretty thin and with the most standard of backstory and motivation, but Farmiga is at least able to make the role stand out as likable and sympathetic. Also worth noting is the classical, gothic horror inspired setting of the film. A haunted abbey is certainly nothing new to the genre, but at least we’re treated to a healthy amount of fog and Victorian era art direction. So yeah, as far as positives go, thus far we have the lead actress, some nice looking set design – and nothing else…
Wowie, where to begin? Well, I suppose that fundamentally, the fact that The Nun is a horror film without a single moment that’s remotely frightening or tense would be chief among its gravest sins. Now, any serious horror fan would tell you that the genre isn’t measured by the success of how much any of the films scare you – and they’d be absolutely right. But when a film clearly doesn’t have any ambitions beyond spooking a bunch of high-school students during its opening weekend, and it can’t even do that right, well then the feeling of unfulfilled potential is even greater than if it were aiming for something a bit headier or more lofty. Such is the case with The Nun, which can’t even hit the mark of its very modest goals of conjuring up some frightening imagery for a crowd of easily impressed kiddos who would rather play on their cellphones than actually pay attention to anything that’s happening onscreen.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a veteran priest and an inexperienced nun head to an ancient, haunted house of God in order to investigate a mysterious death that recently occurred, only to discover along the way that (surprise, surprise) something more nefarious and unholy is going on there and has been for quite some time. Sounds familiar? Well, if that setup sounds extremely played out, watching it unfold in real time and having the film expect you to be surprised and shocked at every last predictable plot turn is extremely tiresome, and only becomes more exhausting as the film goes on. Don’t get me wrong, a conventional story-line isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as the film is offering you something more in terms of scares, thematic depth, or good characters. But since The Nun doesn’t have anything else to give you, the wholly traditional nature of its overarching plot becomes an even greater hindrance.
While the horror genre hasn’t always been the most preoccupied with having a strong central narrative or forward-moving plot, there still needs to be at least some semblance of an identifiable A to Z sequence of events which leads the audience from scare to scare. A justification for all the spookiness on display, if you will. But The Nun can’t seemed to be bothered with any of the fundamental building blocks that separates an intriguing chiller from an incoherent mess. And unless you’re David Lynch, Dario Argento, or Sam Raimi, completely dispensing with a traditional storyline in favor of a nightmarish series of events that thinly connect to one another only serves to highlight how flimsy and nonexistent the plot foundation for your crummy studio horror outing is. Especially when any and all potential character dilemmas are either solved early on or abandoned wholesale when it comes time to crank up the fog machines and make your spooky ghosts continually roar like a lion. Because that happens… a lot.
Even for horror fans that found themselves really won over by the previous films in the whole Conjuring universe (this reviewer even has a soft spot for last summer’s pleasantly surprising Annabelle: Creation), The Nun will likely come across as a hollow disappointment. I suppose that if you can’t contain your excitement for the forthcoming Halloween sequel, then this might seem like an appealing placeholder until then, but there really isn’t much to offer here that you can’t already get from a countless number of older, superior horror flicks. You’re better off just staying home and not letting this nun wack you on the wrists with its oppressive sense of boredom and dullness. Can I get an amen!?
The Nun (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: with every jump scare.
Do another Shot: for each demonic “spooky nun” face.
One more Shot: each time a prayer is ineffective or useless.
Shotgun a Beer: whenever you spot a reference to a past film in the ‘Conjuring’ universe.