BIT OF A NUN-STARTER
THE NUN (15)
Director: Corin Hardy
Screenplay: Gary Dauberman
Starring: Taissa Farmiga, Demien Bichir, Bonnie Arrons
Review: RJ Bland
There is no doubting that James Wan's Conjureverse is currently one of the biggest things to have happened in horror in recent years. The Saw and Final Destination franchises may outscore them in sheer volume of individual titles but give it a few more years and that probably won't be the case. The Warren's case files are extensive and there are still a few more stories yet to explore. However the latest addition to the set is not based on any supposed 'true hauntings' etc – it's simply been borne out of the clamour from audiences to know more about a villain who has popped up in a couple of other movies. She is in fact the star of the scariest scene in The Conjuring 2 (a film that isn't really anything to do with her). You remember the one – where Vera Farmiga is terrorised by the spectre of a nun in her own home. Most people went away from that movie thinking 'yeah that was all right but I'd love to see a film about that scary-ass nun'. Well, your wish is Blumhouse's command. The Nun (why call it anything else?) promises to go deeper into the backstory of the demonic sister so we tuned in to see if it's an immaculate conception or a holy mess.
After a young nun hangs herself at a remote abbey/castle in deepest and darkest Romania, the Vatican sends a gruff-voiced Priest/Exorcist named Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to find out what's going on, amid rumours of strange happenings. They buddy him up with a slightly rebellious novitiate called Sister Irene (Taisa Farmiga) who has experienced otherworldly visions in her childhood and who the Vatican figure might be of some use. Their guide is the dude who discovered the body of the deceased sister - a French-Canadian loner originally nicknamed 'Frenchie', who upon their arrival at the abbey leads them to the place where he has moved the body to. But why has the young nun's body changed position since Frenchie last saw her? And who is the old creepy nun who resides in the shadows who gives them all a rather cold welcome upon their arrival? They'll soon find out...
Excitement has been building for this particular movie for quite a while, mainly prompted by a series of strong trailers that teased a rather gothic looking period horror. And with promising director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) at the helm, shooting from a script by the dude that wrote IT and Annabelle: Creation (Gary Dauberman), there was added reason to feel positive about the latest quiet, quiet, quiet, BANG! horror movie to hit theatres. Which makes it even more disappointing to report that for the most part, it's a big dull dud.
I was recently reading about a computer program that could create symphonies and other musical works. You simply feed in a load of existing Mozart music for instance and the program is able to analyse it and then create it's own original pieces based on that. The result is pieces of music that are as beautiful as anything the original creator could come up with – and indistinguishable at that. The Nun feels like a movie form of that – but one where the computer has malfunctioned and caught on fire. It was fed a bunch of scenes and scripts from every horror every made and did its best to produce some cool concoction but in reality, it just churned out a smorgasbord of cliches and tired dialogue.
The plot is just a bit 'meh' to be perfectly honest (and rather crude). Once our trio of characters arrive at the Abbey there isn't any real development in terms of story of character. Father Burke is haunted by the ghost of a former patient that he couldn't save (been there, done that) and Sister Irena just seems to meander about waiting for something to jump out at her or caught up in yet another 'vision'. The script is especially clunky too and although Farmiga and Bichir do their best, they aren't able to do too much with the material they're given. There is no real narrative drive or momentum and the movie suffers as a result.
The Nun's cardinal sin however is that just isn't very scary though. Poor dialogue and flimsy plot can be overlooked if a genre film gives you thrills and chills. But Corin Hardy's efforts to elicit tension and scares fall flat. It's all the more disappointing considering his previous feature The Hallow was full of atmosphere and dread. However, in the hope of creating a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride of horror, he relies on needless jump-scares (that don't really work) and repetitive sequences. What's that? A nun shape lurking in the background? Yep. I'll turn to look that way and when I turn back, is that same nun going to have moved right behind me in some perverse 'what's the time Mr Wolf' fashion? Yep. We also see far too much of the antagonist here. You'd think that film-makers would have learnt that the 'less is more' approach is always desired in these kind of flicks. Overexposure kills all suspense. The shark in Jaws was terrifying but I bet if you saw him 100 times during the movie it wouldn't be quite as effective. Sure we get lots of dark and gloomy shots and shadows and sinister choral music but it's all worth very little when we are hit time and time again with average and inconsequential attempts to frighten.
There are a couple of nicely played out scares and there are times when it feels like it is a bit of a mash-up between an Exorcist movie and a Hammer Horror. That sounds like an interesting mix and perhaps if that were complimented by a stronger script and more of a focus on atmosphere and suspense then we could have had a rather good movie on our hands. But alas that is not the case. The Nun will make money at the Box Office but it is a failure in pretty much every other way. However Annabelle: Creation showed us that a sequel can sometimes save a concept and fingers crossed someone comes along and salvages this – as it still has all the ingredients to produce a decent – and more importantly – a scary, movie.