I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Jared McMillan // Film Critic
“Cinematic world” is a term that has been at the center of film for decades. The idea is that while the audience is just looking at images projected on a screen, it allows a window to open to an entirely different plane of existence. A cinematic world has its own set of rules, and is ongoing, regardless of edits and run time. A prime example is the “Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)”: these specific set of characters intertwine and have continuing story arcs away from the initial movie where they are introduced to the audience.
THE NUN is the latest entry into the cinematic world established by THE CONJURING. What began as a look into the various encounters of Ed and Lorraine Warren, has expanded those stories by giving the backstories of The Warrens’ antagonists, however those stories have only centered on Annabelle, the haunted/possessed doll until now. The latest expansion into this world is based on the nasty apparition that haunted Lorraine in THE CONJURING 2.
Taking place 25 years before the aforementioned showdown with Lorraine, The Nun (which is the form of a demon named Valak) is kept at bay in a cloistered Romanian abbey. The demon’s presence is enough to lead Sister Victoria (Charlotte Hope) to commit suicide so that the demon cannot take possession of her soul. This leads The Vatican to call on Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to investigate the abbey, charging him with a novitiate to assist him in Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga). They both have experiences that can be beneficial, with Father Burke specializing in “miracle hunting” as he puts it, and Sister Irene being an expert on these matters.
As they arrive in Romania, they meet the man that discovered the hanging nun, a French-Canadian nomad that goes by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet). He becomes their guide and leads them to the scene of the investigation. Here they find various signs to let them know this is not going to be pleasant. For instance, the inordinate number of crosses planted around the abbey, as well as the fact that the horse won’t walk past a certain point out of fear. As they see Sister Victoria’s blood still wet on the abbey’s steps weeks after her death, they know they are getting into something sinister.
Truth be told, THE NUN seemed like a hard sell to begin with. Of course, the purpose is to cash in on something that really resonated with an audience, as well as keep THE CONJURING train rolling along. The series so far has raked in over $1.2b worldwide on a budget of $81.5m all together. However, there is no real need to dive deeper into this story, especially if that story is overall bad when it’s told. There is no substance in anything happening, making it difficult for the audience to fully buy in, regardless of how many jump scares are involved.
Part of the appeal of THE CONJURING franchise is the lingering dread, as well as the pacing of each scene to combine and enhance suspense. Here, everything just seems to go through the motions, painting by the numbers. For every quick camera pan, there is always going to be something scary appearing out of nowhere. It’s never good for a horror movie to blatantly telegraph its scares. Director Corin Hardy (who did a very cool horror flick called THE HALLOW) does the best with what material is given to him. The canted shots and the close-ups help to enhance the mood, and fear in some ways. They also do a nice job of framing interiors to create scope and history.
Also, it is a cool move to have the lead of the movie played by another Farmiga. Vera Farmiga plays Lorraine Warren in the series, so to have her younger sister play Sister Irene creates an interesting synergy within that cinematic world. It can be speculated that Irene is not her real name as nuns either select or are given their names, which gives further intrigue on whether or not having Taissa in that role is meant to elicit curiosity in the viewer. It’s just a shame that curiosity doesn’t stay constant as the movie continues.
So, while there are some good elements to THE NUN, it falls short in any originality or storytelling. Yes, audiences will go for the scares, but there needs to be something arresting in between those scares. It tries too hard to look like a CONJURING movie, and winds up becoming cloistered itself. It will still probably make its money back and then some, but it might have already had its last rites.
THE NUN opens nationwide on Friday (9/7).