The titular character of The Nun made a terrifying first impression in The Conjuring 2 (2016) and, since the Conjuring universe has widened, the demon now has its own standalone film. Set in 1952, it chronicles the story of Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and Father Burke (Demián Bichir) as they investigate a murder in Romania and are quickly made aware of a demonic presence.
In an effort to catch up with the entire Conjuring universe, this is one of the two films I missed.
The Nun kicks off well. The initial setup of the story is great, the introductions of the main cast work well, and overall, the first act is well paced to ease you into the scares that may or may not be to come. It’s dark, it’s eerie, and it sets up what could be a decently scary ride. Although, the execution of the rest of the film isn’t on par with what is set up. Rather that a gradual build, the pace and tension seems to hover in the middle for the majority of the second act. It has its moments where the suspense rises, and it does have a few notable scenes that are quite good. It just never takes off and grips you through to the climax of the film.
The third act doesn’t get much better. This is where the story gets a little too ridiculous and loses what little tension it did successfully set up. It’s loud, there’s a lot going on, and the story goes in directions with the lore of the nun character that started to lose me. Rather than getting better with time, The Nun dips in quality. It never reaches the point of being bad and boring but the third act, which is meant to be the most thrilling, isn’t all that exciting as it whimpers out rather than closing with a haunting final sequence.
I will give it credit for how it creatively and definitely surprisingly connects itself to the wider Conjuring universe. You think it’s going to make a connection in one way but it flips it, and that is a small surprise that I enjoyed.
Being a horror film, everyone is attending for the scares. The Nun is a fairly straightforward horror film in terms of structure, that’s not a bad thing, as if the scares are good then Gary Dauberman‘s screenplay won’t suffer as much. Notably, there are some good scares sprinkled throughout the film. Every now and then, there is a genuinely terrifying moment. Some of those moments are successful jump-scares and some are cleverly executed visual or atmospheric scares with a figure residing off to the side of the frame.
In between these moments, there are a number of not so great scares you can see coming from a mile away. They’re not built up well and, if anything, diminish whatever tension has been set up. The third act is filled with moments designed to be scary but they don’t work for a couple of reasons. I feel like the nun character works best either operating in the shadows or through short appearances. So, when she’s heavily features on screen through an entire sequence it doesn’t have the same impact.
I also believe the setting doesn’t allow for a very inventive horror film. It takes place in a dark and gloomy seemingly abandoned castle which in itself doesn’t offer much. One issue is you never really get a sense of the size and layout of the castle, so, as new areas are introduced it’s more confusing than anything else to figure out where characters are in relation to each other.
Another factor is that none of the performances are incredible, they range from good to ok. Demián Bichir puts in a pretty good performance as Father Burke and sells the fear and more dry personality of his character well. I enjoyed his performance and his scenes more than I did those of Taissa Farmiga. I didn’t think her performance as the lead was all that strong, it’s okay at best. She has a couple of good scenes where she sells the horror quite well, but overall she didn’t get me engaged in her character or the story. Jonas Bloquet has a supporting role as Frenchie and, although his character isn’t too original either, I didn’t mind his performance.
In the end, The Nun doesn’t live up to the quality of some of the other films in the Conjuring universe, but it does make for an okay film with some decent scares. The story is set up well but, as it progresses, the execution isn’t great and it suffers with the story and scares not really delivering. It’s a fine watch with some enjoyable qualities that is worth it if you’re aiming to cover the entire Conjuring universe and get prepped for an eventual sequel.