When it was first announced that Valak, the demon from The Conjuring 2 that took the form a nun with razor-sharp teeth, would get its own spin-off film in the vein of Annabelle, I wasn’t exactly cheering for joy. It was a hard sell, considering that only one of the 4 “Conjuring Universe” films was exceptionally refreshing. But I’m not a cynic when it comes to horror films—I tend to love even the cheesier ones. Those that know me wouldn’t let me lie about owning copies of Pumpkinhead and every last Saw entry. I own ‘em, and I enjoy ‘em in all their goofiness. The best thing about horror is that you don’t necessarily have to take them seriously. It’s likely that any horror film you’re watching is in some shape or form paying homage to the classics that came before it. I guess it’s safe to say you know where I’m going with this review of the most recent horror hit: The Nun.
Directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow), and starring Demián Bichir, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, and Taissa Farmiga, The Nun follows a priest sent by the Vatican to investigate the bizarre death of a nun in Romania. Accompanied by a young woman about to complete her final vows to become a nun herself, the priest ventures into a realm much less holy than expected.
I’ll be honest, the trailers and marketing for The Nun impressed me. I wasn’t too thrilled by the first Annabelle, but the second was surprisingly better than I initially thought it would be. So with the assumption that the studios and writers might have learned from past choices, and with the final jump-scare in that first trailer harkening back to Exorcist III’s iconic hospital scene, I figured I’d go into this movie with an open mind. And I have to say, while The Nun was no filmmaking feat, I did have fun with it.
The film’s downfall was, for one, showing Valak far too much. Or at least by the end, I felt like the demon’s presence was overbearing. Considering the cool uses of shadow and perspective throughout, I was a bit disappointed that Valak didn’t do much else other than pop out and bare its fangs, like any mean Internet video from 2007. And at this point in horror cinema, if I see another crucifix hanging on a wall turn itself upside-down, I might just let Valak put me out of my misery. I do think, with the momentum of the Conjuring films and their creepy-crawling spider legs of spin-offs, this film did have potential to be something really cool.
What did save The Nun from being a total Exorcist II (hey, that series had it’s up’s and down’s, even if it was mostly down’s), however, were the performances by Bichir and Farmiga, as well as the film’s refusal to take itself completely seriously. Yes, it did at times feel like spooky Shutterstock wallpaper on a Windows ’95 background, but it kept up the creep factor throughout to the point of slight hilarity, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, jump-scares are cheap and lazy, but I didn’t go into this film expecting The Witch. This wasn’t trying to be a literary period piece. This was an evil nun preying on fear from the shadows, which is all it really could be, given the lackluster writing and plot. It was campy fun disguised as Hereditary-esque lore and demonic factor, and ineffectively so. Needless to say, I didn’t expect much, and that allowed me to enjoy myself. And building upon my mention of the performances, Bichir and Farmiga aren’t winning Oscars for this one, but I’d still say they held their own in this film; I didn’t want their characters to be hacked off within the first half hour. Farmiga’s character was intuitive, and her useful curiosity fed the film’s scares. Bichir’s priest did feel a bit characteristic of most male characters in horror, going into every situation like he knows everything and definitely won’t be scared at all, nope, but in this case, they both felt like a pretty good pair. They supported each other and pretty equally saved each other from potential peril.
All-in-all, if you’re looking for a fun Halloween-season movie, and you aren’t expecting the next Silence of the Lambs, you’ll enjoy The Nun. It’s a wobbly-placed stake in the chest of modern horror, but it still at least broke the surface. As for its place in this series of Warren-led films, I am a bit torn, given how it ties in, but I won’t spoil anything for anyone. Let me know in the comments what you think, and let me know what you thought of The Nun!
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As some of you may know, one of my poems from Haunt, "The Oldest Rules in the Book," is being included in a new poetry anthology published by Moon Tide Press. The collection, Dark Ink, is a compilation of poetry inspired by the horror genre, and I'm so excited to be a part of this project. The brains behind this book are super pumped for everyone to see it, and so am I! I wanted to promote this in my blog since the pre-order process is currently underway. You can pre-order Dark Ink: A Poetry Anthology Inspired by Horror here. The book is being published next month--like Moon Tide Press on Facebook for more updates!