James Wan really knows how to create iconic movie monsters, and the demon-nun Valak is easily one of his most terrifying creations, with the painting scene from The Conjuring 2 being an all-time great scare. It was no surprise when the announcement dropped that “The Nun” was going to be part of The Conjuring’s expanded universe of monster movies, and thankfully, this film turned out to be a solid addition to the franchise, with good performances and enough gothic atmosphere to give any classic horror fan a smile.
The Nun is the earliest of the “Conjuring” films, chronologically speaking, taking us back to the early 1950s. The story jumps right into the middle of the action, when a nun takes her own life at a remote abbey in Romania. Looking to discover the reason behind the mysterious suicide, the Vatican summons Father Burke (Demián Bichir), who teams up with young Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate. Together, they uncover an ancient evil that will stop at nothing to escape the confines of the abbey.
It’s evident that director Corin Hardy, writer Gary Dauberman, and James Wan are fans of ’60s and ’70s horror. The Nun feels at home with The Conjuring and Annabelle, but at the same time it’s clearly going in a different direction, with a story and atmosphere that feels very much in line with Hammer Horror and Mario Bava. If you’re a fan of those films and/or the Universal Monsters movies of the ’30s, you’ll have fun with The Nun, at the very least because we see so few studio gothic horror movies these days.
Almost right out of a Dracula movie, you have the carriage that won’t go all the way up to the abbey, the tavern where local villagers are terrified, and events that lead to characters being stuck at the abbey overnight. It really helps that Corin Hardy was able to film most of the movie on location in Romania, as it adds so much to the atmosphere of this movie that you just can’t get on a soundstage. The location is as much of a character as any of the actors, and the film’s setting enhances the movie’s creep factor.
Both Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga deliver solid performances, elevating the material into a realm of believability that matches the quality of acting we’ve seen in The Conjuring and puts this film a step above the Annabelle movies. The movie’s title character is once again played by Bonnie Aarons, who is terrifying as Valak, and there is no doubt that her performance will cause a younger generation of horror fans to see a demon nun in their nightmares.
As mentioned, there’s a great setting and great performances, but there are a handful of scenes that really help this movie stand out for me, including a segment at a local graveyard that is one of the highlights of the film. It shows that the movie has enough tricks up its sleeve and doesn’t need to overuse Valak to make you uneasy, focusing more on character and the creep factor than on gore. Even though it does carry and earn its R-rating, the violence we see is definitely on par with what we’ve seen in The Conjuring movies, so don’t go into this expecting it to reach hard-R territory.
If you’ve been a fan of The Conjuring and Annabelle movies, The Nun is definitely worth your time. Similar to watching the Universal Monsters or Marvel movies, you should know what you’re getting into at this point and whether or not The Conjuring series is your cup of tea. James Wan continues to push this series in interesting directions, and with directors like Corin Hardy, and performances like we get from Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga, it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing more monster movies from The Conjuring universe for years to come.
Film Score: 3.5 / 5