A Cardinal Sin
When it comes to horror, there’s a general rule of thumb that less equals more. The idea that throwing everything at the wall within the first five minutes of the film does not bode well for a frightening and tension-filled experience. Alas, The Nun is simply not a scary film. It also makes the mistake of sacrificing its predecessors smart, tension-building execution and excellent set pieces. It instead tries to shock its audience through a tired collection of predictable jump scares and attempts at provocative religious imagery that fails to elicit any sort of real fear. A cross turning upside down may be surprising the first time, but an additional half-dozen occurrences in the span of an already brief runtime doesn’t exactly provoke the same response.
Where It Goes Wrong
The Nun doesn’t waste any time getting into the backstory behind its titular villain, in a cold open sequence that showcases most everything the film has to offer in a matter of about two minutes. Once we are introduced to the story properly, our two main characters are sent on an investigation to find out why the nun in the opening sequence committed suicide, thus setting up our story. This is, somewhat bizarrely, treated as though the audience is meant to be along for the mystery and be surprised by its ultimate revelation, despite the fact that the film clearly spelled out the entire reasoning for her suicide in the very same cold open she’s introduced in. This makes the entire plot feel like an exercise in futility. It’s not exactly compelling to spend 85 minutes explaining a line of dialogue spelled out at the very opening of the film, yet it seems like that’s the intent.
Been There, Nun That
Even without a compelling or original plot, a film can still manage to be effectively frightening if it offers up clever scares, of which The Nun has exactly zero. Every single frightening moment could be telegraphed and predicted with almost comical precision, such as a camera panning back to a character before a corpse drops into the side of the frame, or a seemingly recently deceased villain bursting back to life during a moment of quiet dialogue. None of the gory visuals or generic demon-faced antagonists feel fresh or original at all. During the routine exorcism scenes, it feels like we may as well just be watching nothing. There’s never any real sense of tension because of how often the characters are put in seemingly dangerous situations, only to escape unharmed every single time. For an R rated film, The Nun has a pretty surprisingly low body count, and not much gore to speak of either. It’s a disappointingly, tame film that doesn’t take advantage of its villain’s pre-established aggressive nature to really feel like our characters are in any real danger at any point.
Both the beginning and ending sequences of The Nun feature reused footage from both of the main Conjuring films, as well as an extended flashback sequence to footage from earlier in the film. Despite all of this, the runtime clocks in at just over 90 minutes, yet still feels padded along the way. Most of what fills this runtime is the introduction of our three main characters; a young woman training to become a nun, a priest called in to perform the investigation and a local villager who is tasked with bringing them to the abbey. None of them are given any sort of characterization, yet by the final act, the villager is treated as a strangely out of place comic relief character that clashes heavily with the dark and atmospheric tone the film had been going for up until that point. It’s a clumsy narrative that feels like it was heavily edited and stretched to hit feature length. As a result, it relies too heavily on familiar sequences of a character seeing something in the night and wandering around hallways quietly, before being scared by a loud noise and returning to bed. As a result, much of the middle hour of this film has essentially zero plot and is content to repeat the same series of scenes over and over, until an overly chaotic and unsatisfying finale that, once again, simply fails to be frightening in any way.
The Nun is the weakest and least entertaining of the five Conjuring films thus far, as it clumsily throws together a mish-mash of genre clichés and ineffective gore, culminating in a final product that feels as hollow and lifeless as the empty building it takes place in. It’s a cheap looking, poorly written and lazily constructed narrative that offers nothing you haven’t seen countless times before in other, better films. Despite a decent lead performance and some interesting set design, The Nun is incredibly boring and ineffective, serving only as a reminder of why its superior predecessors keep us coming back for more, in hopes that they may recreate the same impact that made them so impressive.
Photo retrieved from variety.com