The scary, ghostly nun from “The Conjuring 2” now has her own origin movie, a prequel that is, unfortunately, the least in the so-called “Conjuring Universe.”
Taissa Farmiga (younger sister of “The Conjuring” star Vera Farmiga) stars as a nun-to-be who is recruited by a guilt-ridden priest (played by Demian Bichir of “The Hateful Eight”) to investigate a supposedly haunted abbey. Once there, they quickly realize that the place is unholy, the nuns present are terrified and that a very angry ghost is bent on destroying them.
Early on in “The Nun,” this evil force proves to be so powerful, it can set up a devious trap outside its domain and bury a victim alive. No, it’s not a dream sequence either. It was at that point the movie lost me. Logic is a lot to ask for in a movie like this but the “rules” of this entity are played fast and loose, on a scene-to-scene basis. The Nun can let out a scream so jolting, it sounds victims flying through the air and crashing into a wall (this happens a lot). Sometimes bullets can stop her but not always. Also, apparently a bomb dropped during the war was strong enough to open the gates of hell.
This overblown, confusing and underwhelming thriller acts like one of those amusement park haunted houses that are so rickety, they scare no one by trying so hard.
Farmiga is engaging in her introduction, dull for the rest of the movie and will hopefully star in something better soon. Bichir seems to be filling in for Gabriel Byrne and does a poor job of it. This is the kind of well made nonsense that Warner Brothers releases in the off-season, like the Anthony Hopkins starring “The Rite” or Renny Harlin’s “Exorcist: The Beginning.” It lacks the extraordinary suspense, and terror in any of the previous “Conjuring” or “Annabelle” movies.
The title character is a great villain, with her powerful presence, vile croak of a voice and, like Pennywise the clown, she gives frightening close-ups. Unfortunately, we also get an ill-defined snake boy, an army of faceless nuns, a big hole in the ground and a lame wrap-up that forces a franchise connection it doesn’t earn.
The Nun was used in a spare, chilling way in the prior installments but is ill-served in her own vehicle. She deserves her own spooky spin-off but mostly gets shoved to the side. Her back story is too busy to track- rather than just make her an unjustly abused and murdered nun who gets her revenge in the afterlife, we get complicated lore about a demon and lots of jump-scare infused clichés. There are so many dark hallways, people flying backwards, sinister figures wearing habits, slowly opening doors and upside-down crosses, it’s like John Carpenter’s “Sister Act,” only nowhere near as fun as that sounds. The interiors and outdoor cemetery sets suggest an old school Hammer horror film but this rarely connects with the old school charm it intends to recreate.
There are some great throwaway bits, like a hallway of ghost nuns hanging out, a roomful of silent, hooded monsters (by far the most suspenseful sequence) and the absurd spectacle of The Nun rising out water like Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now” (no joke, the homage appears intentional).
It’s all very nun-sensical, never questioning anything and requiring the audience to take everything at face value. It exists in a world where no secular explanation comes up, which even the other films at least considered. If The Nun is given another movie of her own (I suggest “The Nun II- More Bad Habits”), go with less-is-more and just make her the sole threat. There are moments that may unsettle, though I sat in the front row and rarely jumped at anything (which wasn’t the case with the four other movies in the “Conjuring Universe”, which sent me away shaking). “The Nun” provides an unsteady bridge to the other episodes in this series and little beyond that. Does it offer anything special for horror fans? Nope. Nun whatsoever.
One and a Half Stars
-originally published in Maui Time Weekly