THE NUN Review – The Most Atmospheric & Relentless Chapter in THE CONJURING Franchise (So Far)

Starring Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons

Written by James Wan, Gary Dauberman

Directed by Corin Hardy


Speaking in similes horror fans will understand, The Nun is to The Conjuring franchise what Rise of the Lycans is to the Underworld franchise. Though the 5th and 3rd entries in their series respectively, each film is a prequel that, chronologically, serves as the impetus for harrowing action set decades later. And just as Rise of the Lycans ditched its futuristic/noir aesthetic in favor of the perpetual gloom of hardcore Gothic offerings, The Nun goes from 1970’s era retro to Old World throwback, reminding this reviewer of Hammer Horror’s heydays. While Annabelle: Creation also served as a prequel set decades before The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 (as well as the first Anabelle movie), The Nun is the most unique chapter of the franchise—and also the most relentless. American audiences, especially, will be taken far from their comfort zones, thrust into a land of ancient forests and crumbling fortresses; lost in a labyrinth of corridors with only candles and lanterns available to illuminate the haunted convent’s darkest corners.

Corin Hardy was a superb choice to direct this unique installment of The Conjuring franchise. The filmmaker first hit the radars of indie horror fans following the release of The Hallow in 2015. Set in modern Ireland, that film also harkened back to the Hammer Horror heydays, featuring a suburban couple moving into a small rural community teeming with ancient terrors and horrifying secrets. It was a reminder of how addicted many city-folks have become to the rationality of modern life, where everything and anything can be confirmed or debunked in an instant by visiting Wikipedia or Snopes. Cut off from the miracle of fiber-optic information transmission (not to mention galaxies of lights that illuminate even moonless nights), rationality goes out the window, and even the most fact-minded individuals might find themselves pondering the possibilities of supernatural intrusions.

Similarly, The Nun takes us out of our element. Sure, we first met Valak back in The Conjuring 2, released in 2016, but these confrontations were set in a world we recognize and understand; it’s familiar, even for those of us who weren’t born yet in the 1970s or 1980s. It wasn’t much different than life today in terms of houses, apartments, cars, televisions, and electricity. Not so in this latest installment of The Conjuring franchise. And even though Annabelle: Creation was also set in the 1950s, the aesthetic and imagery were so steeped in Americana, it kept US audiences grounded in familiar territory. Excluding bookends from the first two Conjuring movies that frame the action, The Nun is Eastern European and gothic to the core! Be prepared for a journey that will leave you feeling exceptionally isolated, far from the comfort of modern (or even easily recognizable) 21st Century trappings.

As Father Burke and Sister Irene, Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga are the Batman and Robin of The Nun. And while their relationship may seem more comparable to Father Thomas and Father Marcus (played by Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels) from Jeremy Slater’s The Exorcist TV series, they never clash. Their relationship isn’t one of contradictions; there’s no overt or symbolic battle between faith and doubt. Rather, Bichir and Farmiga have a symbiotic relationship without a trace of suspicion or competition. Still, each brings a unique skillset to the table, and it’s by working together (trusting each other and inspiring each other) that they are at their strongest. And while it would be easy to add some sexual tension to the relationship between hot priest and a nubile young novice, the characters remain true to themselves: Bound by faith and completely committed to their mission.

Bonnie Aaron’s contribution to the film’s success can’t be overstated; she returned to reprise the role of Valak she made iconic in The Conjuring 2, and a replacement actress simply couldn’t have towed the line. Her unique facial features drenched in demonic greasepaint are what makes Valak immediately arresting—and terrifying. She doesn’t have to speak a word or wield a weapon in order to convey extreme dread. It’s also somewhat empowering to see a truly iconic female horror villain emerging at a time when the toxic masculinity of Hollywood is being thwarted and remedied at every turn. Whether The Conjuring franchise continues for years or decades, Valak is a character who’s here to stay, occupying the highest echelons of horror heavyweights. In terms of the enduring fear she inspires, Valak gives Annabelle a run for her money!

If you’re new to The Conjuring franchise, you can go into The Nun blind and still have a complete, self-contained experience. And it’ll likely inspire you to delve into the rest of The Conjuring universe with both feet. Those well-versed in The Conjuring’s core mythologies will appreciate how it expands the established universe. Yes, the film poses some questions that remain unanswered, but connecting the threads is an absolute joy for dedicated (and obsessed) genre fans. And we can hope for more movies featuring Valak (perhaps being perused again by Father Burke and Sister Irene), but everyone knows that will depend on the film’s box office gross. This reviewer certainly hopes for more!

  • The Nun
3.5

Summary

The Nun is the most unique, moody, atmospheric, and relentlessly sinister chapter in The Conjuring franchise. Reminiscent of the Hammer Horror heydays, this film is gothic to the core! Where it ranks within The Conjuring franchise as a whole will depend on an individual’s personal preferences, but no one can deny that Valak is an iconic horror villain, a fiend who will become firmly entrenched in the horror zeitgeist.

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