You’ve worked on a lot of films, many of them B-movie thrillers and sequels. Typically the kinds of films where attention to detail isn’t exactly the highest priority. This is not to say your work isn’t good. On the contrary, what you brought to The Nun was exactly what this type of film requires – a none-too-subtle backdrop for a middling horror flick more interested in jump scares than a slavish devotion to veracity.
The latest in The Conjuring horror franchise, the titular nun is a pale spectre introduced in The Conjuring2 by Vera Farmiga’s paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren, who has a premonition of the nun killing her husband. The Conjuring films are notable for many things, among them, the period accurate mid-70s art direction which reflects the drab Cold War, recession-era design I so fondly remember. The Nun takes us back even further, to an isolated Romanian abbey (is there any other kind?) in 1952, where the predominant aesthetic is Overly Enthusiastic Suburban Dad’s Front Yard Halloween Display circa 1998.
The popularity of The Conjuring films lead to the expansion of the universe with films like Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, neither of which were able to recreate the visceral experience of the first Conjuring film. If The Nun feels like a cheap knock-off of a popular original, it’s because it is. James Wan, the director of Conjurings 1 & 2 (and the Insidious films, SAWs II-VII) has not helmed the offshoots of the series, and it shows. Without Wan’s powerful use of imagery, mastery of horror film pacing, and inventive cinematography, The Nun feels like a high school drama class homage.
But even the odd high school production can have moments of inspiration. The high points in The Nun come courtesy of the comic relief provided by secondary character, Frenchie, a French-Canadian living in Romania who delivers food to the Abbey because locals will not go near it. Frenchie finds a young nun who has hanged herself, which prompts The Vatican to send a veteran priest haunted by his past, and a young novitiate to investigate the abbey’s disturbing events. Despite the committed performances from (2012 Best Actor Oscar nominee) Demian Bechir, Taissa Farmiga (sister of Vera), and Jonas Bloquet’s charmingly goofy Frenchie, once the leads arrive at the abbey, The Nun seems more interested in blowing its bloated fog-machine budget than delivering a provocative story.
There are crosses. Everywhere. All. The. Crosses. So many that they cease to inspire of the kind of demonic chill the film so desperately wants us to feel. There are gravestones, and candles and starched, unhappy nuns creeping around pews, and dorms, and hallways. This film seems intent on convincing us that religious imagery is unsettling. And it can be, when used sparingly, and not when the props and sets look so obviously faux-aged they could have been designed at a craft store’s weekend chalk-painting workshop. It may seem like a petty quibble, but this kind of slap-dash approach to something as vital to a horror film as its look, speaks to either the filmmaker’s inexperience, or his assumption that SFX and jump-scares are all an audience really wants from a throwaway horror prequel.
A good horror film should stay with you. It should, you know, haunt you. The Nun doesn’t take itself seriously, and therefore neither did I.