‘The Nun’ Review: Unanswered Prayers

I love the films of the “Conjuring Universe.” With the true life stories from Ed and Lorraine Warren serving as a backdrop, these films have scared and thrilled audiences and critics alike for the better part of this decade and they look to keep going. Warner Bros. has fleshed out the universe with side stories spun off from the two Conjuring films, one focused on the demonic doll, Annabelle, first seen in the opening of the first Conjuring film, and the now the other, The Nun, which gives the backstory to the evil painting of Valak from 2016’s The Conjuring 2.

The Nun is centered on an old abbey in Romania. As the film opens, two nuns are on a mission within the walls of the abbey, armed with a special key, seeking a much needed relic, and afraid of what’s behind a door marked in latin that “God Ends Here.” When one nun is killed by whatever is behind the door, the other nun takes the key and then proceeds to hang herself. Her body hangs outside her window for days until a local caretaker, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), discovers her.

The Nun Review

The suicide prompts the Vatican to send in a “specialist” priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir), to investigate, and he is tasked with taking along a young woman, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who has yet to take her vows. The reasoning behind her joining Father Burke isn’t very clear, but it has something to do with visions she’s had her whole life that the Vatican is already aware of. Both figures have checkered pasts, which still haunt them, and that serves as a point of interest as the story unfolds.

The two connect with Frenchie, who begrudgingly takes them to the abbey, and the mystery — and chills begin. Something isn’t right at all with the nuns at the abbey, and the mystery of the suicide and the evil locked behind the door is the root of the story in The Nun.

The Nun Review

Director Corin Hardy doesn’t hide his influences here, as The Nun looks and feels like a classic Hammer film. Spooky images of crosses and fog and the dull gray stones of the abbey walls sucks the color out of this film world, giving the viewer a sense of dread in every film frame. When there is a splash of color, it’s either from flame or blood, which usually bodes well for a horror film.

The problem is that the film sets the mood wonderfully, like adding cheese to the mousetrap, but The Nun never really goes off. I was never scared or uncomfortable, unlike in the other films in this series, as even the jump scares in the film were ruined by the trailers. All that’s left at that point is to enjoy the homage to Hammer Studios’ assortment of films from the ’50s and ’60s. That’s not a bad thing, but The Nun could have been so much more.

The Nun Review

The Nun is the first film in the Conjuring Universe’s chronology, predating both Annabelle films and both Conjuring films. Screenwriter Gary Dauberman has earned some decent horror cred with his scripts for the Annabelle films and last summer’s IT, and his script, based off his and James Wan’s story, does a decent job of connecting The Nun to the other films in tone. The character of Father Burke is also interesting and his adventures would make a good film or two themselves.

The audience can see the story threads as they interweave with the other films, proving that this cinematic universe works and will continue to work, even if one film falls flat. The first Annabelle film wasn’t well received, but the sequel was a thrilling, scary joy, so that bodes well for any additional chapters in The Nun’s story — if there are any.

The Nun works in many ways, but fails in many more. The atmosphere and the cinematography create a Hammer Films-like sense of dread, but the filmmakers never push it into dangerous territory, so the audience is never really truly scared. The imagery of Valak, the demonic nun, still causes nightmares, but maybe she would have been better off left as a haunted painting. No matter, this cinematic universe is alive and kicking, and more films are coming, including the third Conjuring film. And nothing scares me more than knowing that.

The Nun is rated R and is in theaters now.

The Nun Review
out of 5

TheHDRoom may be paid a small commission for any services or products ordered through select links on this page.