An effective movie scare is a testament to a director’s ability to build up a percolating sense of dread that almost feeds on the fear with its psychological narrative.
Director Corin Hardy uses a Romanian monastery as his playground where things go bump in the night, as he builds up a story of a vengeful demonic entity, using drawn out silences, pools of darkness and a graveyard shrouded in ghostly mist to launch his covert assault on the senses.
The Nun is the fifth film in The Conjuring franchise, which takes us back to the beginning of the chilling tale of the demon Valak, who will continue to terrorise viewers over the course of several decades. Much of the film’s opening sequence has already played out in the trailers, yet watching Valak’s chilling reflection during those first few minutes is sufficient to willingly overlook the narrative’s glaring leaps in logic.
The year is 1952 and a nun’s suicide in a cloistered abbey propels the Vatican into commissioning its resident ghostbuster Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to travel to Romania to solve this particular mystery. The good Father is battling his own personal demons, but we don’t dwell much on that as the novitiate Sister Irene (a formidable Taissa Farmiga) joins his mission, largely due to a penchant for seeing beyond the obvious through her visions.
Along the way, the duo encounter a young farmer, Maurice Theriault or Frenchy (Jonas Bloquet), who will aid them in this battle between good and evil, and someone will also play a much larger role in the world seen by real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are the muses in this ever-expanding Conjuring universe.
The makers continue to play on this faux-real angle that has created the most successful horror film franchise since the 2013 release of The Conjuring, bringing paranormal folklore into pop culture as they chronicle some of the most famous cases handled by the Warrens.
However, as the first in this five-film narrative, The Nun leaves you with more questions than answers. It is equally frustrating to see an origin story that fails to deliver on the creation of a demonic entity that will continue to haunt us through countless storylines.
Take for example Annabelle: Creation, which is set in 1957 – five years after The Nun – and where Valak makes several attempts to terrorise inhabitants of the Mullins family home. We see a definitive pre-existing connection to Valak and the Romanian monastery through Sister Charlotte’s photograph, and yet the active link is never truly flushed out in this new film.
That said, The Nun does deliver on its promise with some genuine scares as actress Bonnie Aarons reprises her role as Valak. Several stand out moments in the film, including a sequence where Sister Irene faces the demon’s wrath as she prays with a group nuns, plays out with such pent-up ferocity that credit needs to be given to Hardy for building the suspense with such subtlety.
However, what frustrates is Father Burke’s fondness for falling for Valak’s many traps that elicit no confidence in his wishy washy personality (seriously, is this all the Vatican can deliver?), leaving the bulk of The Nun’s wrath pointed towards the young Sister Irene’s slender frame. Taissa Farmiga’s dewy-eyed innocence, hidden behind nerves of steel, shows ample maturity as an actress who alternates between vulnerability and firm conviction with finesse.
As the younger sister to Vera Farmiga in real-life — who plays Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring series – the makers are clearly attempting to toy with the audience further, making us question whether the films will also have some connection between the two characters.
Whether or not this is the case, all the arrows, or lack thereof, do point us towards a sequel to The Nun, set somewhere during those missing five years that ties in Sister Charlotte to the larger narrative and plots out Valak’s escape from Romania.
While we wait for the next film in the franchise to release next year, something tells us we haven’t seen the last of Sister Irene or Father Burke in The Conjuring universe.
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The Nun is screening now in the UAE.