‘THE NUN’ is the fifth film in ‘The Conjuring Universe’ starring Taissa Farmiga, and Demián Bichir, directed by Corin Hardy. I would say I’ve enjoyed this connected universe of films overall. The first ‘Annabelle’ was mildly uninspired. However, I do think its sequel, and both ‘Conjuring’ movies were quality genre films that provided nice effective doses of suspense and traditional horror elements. While at the same time, a story and cast performances that were able to make me feel genuinely invested.
I’ll admit the trailer for this one didn’t look bad at all. But it didn’t really look overly fresh either, and it sort of had an impression of being on the gimmicky side. It could’ve been how the trailer was cut, so I went into this one with no preconceived notions, and optimistic given the track record of these connect films thus far.
The story is set in Romania in the early 1950’s as a Priest and a novitiate are sent from the Vatican to investigate the death of a nun at a secluded monastery. It’s more than a serviceable backdrop for a dark and eerie horror film. Which at times it certainly was. Unfortunately, it was also heavily procedural in stretches with what I felt was a lack of focus in what the overall tone was to be. It wasn’t a bad movie by any means, but it was disappointing as it failed to reach the potential I felt it had.
It starts out with almost immediate intrigue being created. I thought the backdrops, and locations were all perfectly tailored for the cold, ominous tone of the script. The first-act does build natural interest quickly, and with an imposing musical score added to it all, I was really getting into the world this film was setting up. I was also connecting with the characters. Bichir and Farmiga both brought a real, grounded presence to their roles. And with some well-crafted dialogue I thought the charm in their characters was coming out nicely to resonate with me despite neither having much backdrop.
So, with a strong first-act I was feeling good about this spin-off. Then the second-act got going and it seemed to opt for different directions instead of solid story-building. Characters began to conveniently be isolated from one another. Simply to provide more scenes of individuals wandering down dark halls during the night with ominous figures passing in the foreground and background without the character’s noticing to build easy suspense.
This technique does work at times with some clever set-ups. But there are also many others that I would’ve never expected to see in this universe of films, as they felt recycled from other movies and certainly on the gimmicky side. It still wasn’t a deal breaker, because there was some fun to be had here. However, the entire middle of this film seemed to repeat this scenario over-and-over. It created a very choppy flow to the story-line with a series of jump-scare set-pieces that had more of a haunted house vibe than anything, which I wasn’t hoping for.
Admittedly the third-act is redeeming with some fun horror moments that built some strong intensity. I wouldn’t say they were scary moments, but with a commanding score and some sinister visuals, many scenes did do a solid job of creating uneasiness and tension. I thought the framework for this story was more than serviceable. I also enjoyed the build-up and the foundations of the plot. I liked the crafting of the tie-ins to the universe of films this script wove into its story-line as well. But I didn’t enjoy the path it took to tell itself as it felt like a movie that tried to appeal to a mass audience, with theme-park style jump-scares and an in-your-face approach. Instead of building true, sinister evil through story-telling like I was anticipating.
But like I mentioned, the performances were great. I think both Bichir and Farmiga capture their roles with realism which added layers to their personalities that was not developed on the writing side. They hit the emotional intensity with success and they certainly elevated the material as the script routinely opts for thin visual story-telling that Farmiga and Bichir make work. They also had a strong chemistry with one another that didn’t necessarily grab my attention but did capture their newly formed alliance effectively.
The dialogue early on was able to weave in a natural sense-of-humor that like I said, gave the character-types some grounded charm. But as the film closes out a particular character, whose sole intent in this one is to serve as the comic-relief does get forced into relentless attempts at humor. His charisma added a nice dynamic to the movie early on, but the script goes to him too many times as it winds down. So instead of scenes that should’ve built intensity, making me fear for the lead characters, simply turned into a punchline too many times.
The story would pull me in and grab my curiosity. Then a forced joke would push me right back out of the story. I wanted a movie that would ramp up the tension and go out with a climactic showdown against evil, and instead it felt more like part of a third-act from one of the ‘Mummy’ movies with a near campy tone. Then it would try to take itself seriously again, and cram in layers of story that could have been seeded way earlier in the movie in place of the repetitive jump-scare sequences and familiar scenes with characters walking around in the dark.
The direction in my opinion was solid. It was more on the traditional side and didn’t have that trademark flow that I love from these films, but it did the job. The production design was nicely done with some great set-design that created a lot of depth and eeriness. The make-up, and special-effects were also well done to capture both the time-period, and the dreary locations with an immersive result.
But I do think the lighting for a bulk of the film was lacking. It could have been the projection from the screening I was watching but it was an overly dark film. Not like a saturation of color. But just dark in general. It was hard to see many of the scenes, and with some quick-editing at times it wasn’t the most viewer friendly experience. It had its moments that delivered, but unfortunately it had many more that didn’t. The story pacing was a little uneven, and there were some story-elements that felt glossed over with surface level explanation which could’ve been explored more had the story itself been more of a point-of-emphasis.
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