It is with a degree of surprise that we have seen the development of The Conjuring universe over the last few years. Starting with the 2013 smash horror hit The Conjuring (inspired by the case studies of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren) director James Wan put the wicked wheels in motion for a horror franchise and since then we have had demonic doll Annabelle (from the first film) inspire two movies of her own and Wan deliver a 2016 Conjuring sequel. Now, after scaring the ‘bee-jesus’ out of audiences, as a side-character in James Wan’s aforementioned excellent The Conjuring 2 (also known as The Conjuring: The Enfield Poltergeist), demon Valak (or ‘The Nun’) returns in her own spin-off origin film.
Like 2014’s Annabelle, The Nun is an instalment in the series that feels less deep, emotive or impactful than its franchise brethren but despite the script borrowing from cliché, director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) renders some strong ambiance from his very gothic setting. The candle lit corridors, otherworldly monastery, religious symbolism and twisted looking and unkempt graveyard evoke a strong sense of Hammer Horror, as the investigative plot unfurls. Truth told the actual murder/suicide investigation is not particularly mysterious, as we know going in who (or rather what) is responsible but the fun lies in exploring this evil alongside the characters.
Methodically paced but without the same hauntingly consistent grasp as last year’s Annabelle: Creation, The Nun does have some lags in pace and if you are a well tenured horror fan, you have likely seen much of this all done before (not to say that it isn’t done well). The biggest issue with The Nun is in a script that lacks the same imaginatively lingering punch as its kin, whereas in the other films you had fresh strong sequences like ‘The Scarecrow’, ‘The Crooked Man’ and ‘Annabelle’, here you have a few jolts but not as much to bother you later that night at home. Plus the far too over the top finale is so effects-heavily overblown (despite a cool face-off – literally – between hero and villain) it clashes with the restraint of earlier sequences. That being said, the film does get neatly linked to the Warren story in the closing moments and leaves things ready to build upon down the line.
It also helps that Hardy, makes use of his atmospherics throughout, with a specifically strong use of sound, which aids the jumps alongside a reasonably strong score by Abel Korzeniowski and the unsettling locations. Even as a few scare tactics grow repetitive, The Nun never loses its dark feeling entirely and the performances are mostly rather good, with Jonas Bloquet adding some required comic relief as “Frenchie” (there’s even a blood of Christ gag!) and Demián Bichir having a good go as Father Burke – despite some underdeveloped aspects to his character. Though the real star, excluding Bonnie Aarons title spectre, is Tarissa Farmiga (whose casting is brilliant for a number of reasons) as Sister Irene and Farmiga gets us to really care about her lead and gives the character and the movie some much needed human warmth.
The Nun is admittedly at the lower end of The Conjuring universe ranking but has some mainstream horror jolts that ought to please a Friday night crowd and does leave things at a point where a further chapter (like the great Annabelle: Creation) could actually expand on things and enrich proceedings. Flawed and admittedly formulaic at times but atmospheric and entertaining still, Valak remains an imposing cinematic apparition.