James Wan’s Conjuring films have been revered for their ability to balance in-depth storytelling with the right amount of scares. The franchise’s universe is continuing to grow, but with the release of The Nun, it’s a wonder if the new installments will be able to live up to the true stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren. With James Wan’s writing credit, it’s surprising that The Nun turns out to be just another generic horror flick. It had the potential to be something more, but the film lacked the authentic storytelling that makes The Conjuring series so good. Instead, it’s just another film of the genre that tries too hard, does too much to make the audience jump, and follows the typical tropes of white people deciding it’s a good idea to split up and go towards the mysterious voice calling them in the dark.
Since Valak’s appearance in The Conjuring 2, learning more about our titular demon’s origins is something that fans have been waiting for, and the film delivers. The film, also, successfully explains how this demonic figure became connected to the Warrens. While the latest installment in the universe is absent of Lorraine’s iconic looks, it’s stylish all on its own with the setting of the convent and the surrounding Romanian Hills. Having the film set in a convent really elevates the dark atmosphere creators were going for because convents themselves are always so spooky, dark, and dim (is it a sin to get some colour on those walls?).
For the most part, the film feels empty and laughable. Empty because, compared to the Conjuring series, the film lacks story. The narrative follows Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) as they are sent to Romania by the Vatican after the apparent suicide of a nun. The rest of the story is the cast of characters either running towards or running away from the mysterious and demonic nun figure haunting the edifice, as they assess the sanctity of its grounds. Laughable because the effects and scares are just so ridiculous and, well, bad. Jonas Bloquet as the French-Canadian potato farmer, Frenchie, who discovered the deceased nun, delivers some genuinely funny quips, but this creates an incoherent tone due to more laughs than screams from the audience.
What horror films generally lack are interesting characters, but that’s something this franchise isn’t known for. It’s clear that in the Conjuring films, the characters are more important than the scares, but The Nun, unfortunately, strays away from this. We learn bits and pieces about each character, but not enough to keep us invested like we are with the Warrens and the families they help. The most interesting character, however, is Farmiga’s Sister Irene, whose visions guide the story and lead to a surprising twist in the film’s narrative. While all the performances are solid with each actor bringing their all, it’s just another aspect of the film that could have been more.
With all this said, there’s a powerful message that can be interpreted from the film that may or may not have been intended by the filmmakers. The Nun, at its core, represents the cracking foundation of the Catholic institution. Demons are traditionally viewed as wholly evil, and Catholicism wholly good with these narratives showing how Biblical writing usually spoken by priests defeats this evil. But the fact that this demon character is able to embody a nun, a woman married to God and traditionally viewed as good, flips the traditional views of what’s good versus what’s evil. Today, we’re learning more and more of the corruption and evil in the church and The Nun reflects this reality. Nuns, and women in general, are almost always viewed as good because nature has given them the role of motherhood. They are supposed to be caring, nurturing to the young. But if you look at recent stories like the horrors that took place at St. Joseph’s Orphanage, you realize that women can be just as evil and that nuns aren’t saints and therefore, not wholly good. Hearing stories of orphans who saw their friends abused, beaten, thrown out of windows to their death by nuns possessed by their own evil, that’s the real horror story. And as concluded in the film, we’re no longer on holy ground.