The Nun arrives in select theaters tonight for late screenings in advance of its nationwide release on Friday, September 7th. It’s the latest spinoff in James Wan’s The Conjuring universe, launched in 2013; previous spinoffs were Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, but this is the first film to feature the demon Valak, first introduced in The Conjuring 2. Though a late addition to the script, Valak, played by Bonnie Aarons, was a consummate scene-stealer and is already emerging as one of the most iconic female horror villains—ever!
The Nun is directed by Corin Hardy from a script penned by Wan and Gary Dauberman (IT 2017, Annabelle, and Annabelle: Creation). The film stars Demián Bichir as Father Burke and Taissa Farmiga as his assistant, the novice Sister Irene; Aarons returns to reprise Valak in the titular role.
Dread Central was lucky enough to sit down with Hardy during a recent advanced screening/press junket for The Nun in Mexico City. Also present were Bichir and Farmiga, and you can find links to their interviews below. Though much of Hardy’s contributions are difficult to communicate, as he invited attendees to inspect his personal production sketchbooks (an absolute treasure trove, by the way), he offered many insights into The Nun and his own creative process.
You can check out the trailer and synopsis for The Nun at the bottom of the article.
On whether The Nun was inspired by The Name of the Rose, a novel by Umberto Eco that was adapted for film in 1986. (The movie was directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and stars Sean Connery and Christian Slater.)
Corin Hardy: The Nun isn’t based on The Name of the Rose but it did provide some influences and inspiration for James and Gary during the writing process. I haven’t seen that for a long time, but I remember it. And it’s about, you know, Sean Connery … he’s a priest and he gets hired to go and investigate a murder in an abbey. So, I think it was a cool idea to riff off and take in a supernatural direction. And then, I made a kind of mood book when I got the movie. I just put down as many inspirations and movies and art that I drew from when I read the script, to get a sense of the lighting and the kind of cinematography I wanted. It contained elements of Black Narcissus and Coppola’s Dracula and even A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was sort of iconic imagery that we’ve seen but then we applied it to period, Gothic horror movie.
On the heavy Gothic elements in The Nun:
CH: It’s a classic Gothic horror. I grew up watching Hammer horror movies and monster movies and Salem’s Lot as a kid, and I suddenly realized I had this opportunity to make a classic, old-school, Gothic horror movie in 2018. I became really excited because I wanted to make something kind of timeless, you know, contemporary in a sense. Also, it didn’t feel like there are many Gothic horror movies being done much now. It dawned on me when I was shooting with Damian, Taissa, and Jonas [Bloquet]; their first day shooting, we were up in Transylvania, at the foot of a castle, surrounded by crosses with smoke blowing through them—I was looking through the lens and I was like, “Wow! We’re making a Gothic horror movie, aren’t we?”
On what, if anything, makes nuns inherently scary:
CH: My mother’s aunt was a nun in England; she was lovely and very jolly, but I was sort of freaked out more just by the holiness and mystery about what they do and what goes on in a convent. I mean, for me, you know seeing The Conjuring 2 and [Valak, played by Bonnie Aarons], she sort of steal the show in a way, and just felt really iconic straight away. I love black and white contrast, and shapes, and angles and I think just the nun habit was almost like a shark fin to me. I saw her as a shark and the convent as an ocean, and she can sort of lurk in the shadows; she can drift in the corridors, she can hide, you know. You don’t know if that’s a good nun or a bad nun until you sort of like, turn around and then see for yourself.
But then, you know, there’s the concept of anything that is meant to be trustworthy and good and holy, being turned upside down and is anything but that. It’s a great basis for a horror villain, because it’s a deceiver, and it’s a demon that can trick your mind by inhabiting something that’s so good.
On whether there will be a sequel to The Nun or if Valak will appear in The Conjuring 3:
CH: Dude, I can’t tell you anything. I’d be ejected from the universe if I said that. But yeah, you know if people like this movie then there are definitely more stories to tell. With The Conjuring franchise, you can go anywhere with that and I love the idea of Father Burke or Sister Irene on some further adventures-if they survive!
On the most difficult scenes to shoot in The Nun:
CH: The water was a challenge and everyone was like, “Are you sure you want to do the water? It wasn’t in the script…” There was a different ending in the script and it was effectively a gateway to Hell. But I had a gut feeling that when you have things like gateways to Hell, you have to go through some kind of transformation or some, you know, enter a kind of a portal. It can’t just be literally a gateway, you know, and I always have an affinity for water. When you go on the ocean and look at the surface it’s one thing; once you’re underneath it, it’s completely different and everything changes.
I wanted to build this idea that all the evil was kind of welling up down there in the catacombs which enables a gateway to sort of happen, [but] without being able to see it too clearly. So that was a challenge. We had wires and we had Taissa getting dragged through the water, Bonnie in full makeup getting dragged through the water, and Damian in there too…
On practical special effects vs CGI:
CH: I grew up on 70’s and 80’s horror movies that only had practical and optical effects and I still love the way they look. I’m also not naïve enough to know that you can create credible visual effects, but there’s a sort of a limitation with practical effects where you have to stop before it gets beyond it. And there’s a limitlessness with CGI that you can never stop, but you have to know your limits. I always want to keep things grounded and I think we as humans only find things moving or scary when you really can see the light in the eyes of the person or the fear of the experience they are going through. I use CGI, absolutely, and I use visual effects but try and mix them up so that you don’t really get accustomed to any exact ingredients.
On working with Bonnie Aarons:
CH: Bonnie’s lovely. Once I got the movie, you know, we were thinking about casting and who’s going to play Father Burke, and I was like, “Hang on a minute, we have got the actress that played the nun in The Conjuring 2 right?” I panicked, like, what if she’s not available, or doesn’t want to do it? She just immediately kind of captured this iconic character that I felt straight away. You’ve got Michael Myers, you’ve got Freddie Kruger, you’ve got Christopher Lee’s Dracula, and I think you’ve got the demon nun.
So we got Bonnie back, and she’s an eccentric character, you know? She loves scaring people! Unlike Damian and Taissa who aren’t massive horror fans but are great actors, Bonnie loves being that nun, I mean you couldn’t keep her away. She was a trooper. I put Bonnie Aarons on wires in the water getting pulled underwater for multiple takes in contact lenses. Then I’d ask, “Please, can you do it again?” and she’d say “Yeah hang on a minute…” [Mimes puking up water]
When a young nun at a cloistered abbey in Romania takes her own life, a priest with a haunted past and a novitiate on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate. Together, they uncover the order’s unholy secret. Risking not only their lives but their faith and their very souls, they confront a malevolent force in the form of a demonic nun.