When you’re a filmmaker playing in the James Wan-iverse sandbox, expectations are going to be high amongst fans, and for the most part, I feel like director Corin Hardy rises to the occasion with The Nun, his lovingly crafted tribute to Hammer Horror that dives into the backstory of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), the demonic force introduced in The Conjuring 2. While The Nun has some issues with tone and pacing, especially in the first half of the film, once the story settles in for the finale, that’s when Hardy’s love for the genre shines through, with this newest piece of The Conjuring cinematic puzzle coming together to deliver a solidly entertaining finale that finally taps into just what makes Valak so terrifying on screen.
The Nun transports us to an abbey in Romania back in 1952, where we watch as two nuns are being tormented by a somewhat unseen presence, and one of them ends up taking her own life instead of sticking around to contend with the evil force that’s stalking her. The news of the tragedy makes its way to the Vatican, where the higher-ups in the Catholic Church task Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) with investigating the horrific death of the young nun. As the duo set out for their enquiry, they meet a local by the name of Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who helps them in their travels up to the remote locale, but it’s evident rather quickly that there’s something very off about the Abbey of St. Carta, and both Sister Irene and her holy companion are going to need to rely on their faith to survive Valak’s demonic shenanigans.
While I enjoyed The Nun as a whole, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its fair share of issues that nearly trip Hardy’s directorial efforts. As mentioned, the first part of The Nun feels a bit clunky at times, where it struggles to find its tone and establish a good storytelling pace, as it tends to overstuff its narrative with a backstory that nearly bogs down the whole affair (a priest who has experienced an exorcism gone wrong? You don’t say!). The Nun’s biggest cinematic sin is the fact that the character of Valak is grossly underutilized, with Aarons only really getting a chance to go wild in the film’s final 20 minutes or so. In a film where you’re supposed to be exploring this pre-established villain that fans have already embraced, it seems like a shame to not really lean into that character and celebrate it to its fullest.
That being said, The Nun does feature some truly inspired moments of gothic horror, particularly a harrowing sequence involving Farmiga’s character being whipped violently during an attack by Valak, and while I may have uttered the words “Demon Knight” a few times during the movie’s conclusion, I must admit that I applaud The Nun for just full on embracing its Hammer Horror-esque tendencies during the film’s final showdown between good and evil. The Nun also acts as a fantastic platform for Farmiga to shine upon, as she’s really great in this, and I very much enjoyed her performance as a young woman of faith who struggles with visions that have plagued her for some time, and how such miracles could possibly fit into God’s plan for her life. Also, Bloquet’s character, Frenchie, feels like he could have been plucked right off the set of Son of Frankenstein, and that was something else I truly admired about this project.
It’s true that The Nun may have its share of foibles, and never quite achieves the cinematic greatness I was hoping for, but it’s still a good effort from Hardy, who wears his affection for classic horror prominently on his sleeve. His love letter to a bygone era of genre storytelling is a gorgeously gothic feast for the eyes that is best served on a big screen.
Movie Score: 3/5