[Review] ‘The Nun’ Feels like a Step Back for the Conjuring Universe

While the first “Conjuring” has a special place in my heart, I never imagined when it was first released that we would be getting a cinematic universe out of it.  And while the core films have been good, the spin-off movies have had pretty mixed results.  “Annabelle” was a disappointment, while “Annabelle: Creation” managed to find the right note to strike with that character.  So here we are with a new creature getting its own movie.  Will it stick the landing right out of the gate or should we be looking forward to a potential sequel that gets it right?

In “The Nun” Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) are sent to an isolated convent to investigate the mysterious death of a nun.  However, when they arrive they find that a great evil has infested the place.

So far in the “Conjuring 2” and even in “Annabelle: Creation” we’ve only gotten small details and teases of who and what the Nun creature really is.  So there’s plenty of room with a prequel to flesh out its origins and explain its greater purpose.  Unfortunately, “The Nun” doesn’t deliver on that potential and instead presents a paper thin story.  At the very least we learn where the Nun came from, but the film doesn’t really explore the creature any further than that. I’m not saying that I need to know every facet of this demon’s psyche, but in a movie that is solely about them it would be nice if I had a clearer picture of it’s motivation.  So instead of taking a deep dive into the history of this demon or the mysterious convent, we just watch the characters meander around until a scare happens to them.

The lack of plot details surrounding the Nun wouldn’t have been so bad if the rest of the story was supported by interesting and fleshed out characters.  Unfortunately, the three main protagonists are a bit on the lifeless side.  With only three characters taking up the majority of the screen time there should be ample time to give them proper character arcs, but we only get the smallest suggestion of development.  In fact, the only character with any kind of depth is Father Burke and it feels strangely forced.  In the story we learn that he has a troubled past because of an exorcism gone bad, but it’s clear this little detail is only added to the story so we can have a creepy child monster.  The movie couldn’t be more transparent about it either because as soon as Burke tells his story we get a creepy child scare.  And then that plot thread is never explored or developed upon. It literally means nothing to the character or the overall story.

Sister Irene serves a more important role in the movie as she casually reveals that she gets visions, but even with that much importance placed on her character she isn’t a memorable element of the movie.  I just saw the movie and I’m still struggling to remember anything she said or did that really stood out to me. As a plot device, she’s integral to the story, but as a character she’s completely forgettable and that’s a damn shame considering Taissa Farmiga is a great actor who could’ve done so much more had they given it to her.

Then there’s the third character who occassionally pops up to fill time: Frenchie.  Frenchie is the local boy who discovered the dead nun and who is serving as a tour guide for Burke and Irene.  However, his entire character can be boiled down to two elements: He’s handsome and funny.  That’s about it.

As for scares, “The Nun” falls in line with the rest of the “Conjuring” universe by delivering plenty of jumpscares.  Unfortunately, I think the Nun had her best scares in “The Conjuring 2.”  Here she’s more direct and has more time on screen, but I felt she was more creatively used in her last appearance.  There are one or two moments that I thought were genuinely great scares, though, and I think that’s in large part due to director  Corin Hardy having a knack for striking visuals.  Sadly, though, the film is so formulaic with its scares that you can see them coming just around every corner.

Personally, I also thought the movie was too dark and the camera felt too close to the action at times so I often had trouble making out what was going on and that lead to some of the scares not really having a lot of impact for me.  I’ve talked to other people, though, and no one else seemed to have that problem.  So maybe it was just me.

I hate to say this, given that the Nun was one of my favorite parts of the “Conjuring 2,” but I came away from her debut film feeling rather bored.  It’s not a bad film, but it doesn’t do anything exciting with a creature that had a lot of hype riding behind it.  If anything, this might’ve been a momentum killer for me.  It just feels so stiff and formulaic, like it was crafted to meet the expectations of the studio.  Like someone said you need a young pretty lead, a handsome rogue, a creepy kid, and jump scares. Make it happen.  Unless you’re dying to see more of the “Conjuring” universe, I would recommend seeing this one from the comfort of your home.

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