With the country just about getting over the visit from The Pope, perhaps there’s no better time to release The Nun (Cert 16, 96 mins), the long-awaited horror featuring a popular side character from the spooktacularly successful Conjuring franchise.
It’s a character that’s proved to be a fan favourite through her carefully restricted use – but for maximum effect – in the Conjuring’s setting, so it would seem like an obvious move to give her an origins prequel story.
Alas, sometimes less is very definitely more, and the film proves that the more you know about something, the less scary it gets.
Cue flashback wibble-wobble effect…
It’s the 1950s, and after a spot of bother involving some dead nuns at a Romanian abbey, the Vatican dispatches a ghostbust- err, a priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and a young nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate, teaming up with a local, ‘Frenchie’ (Jonas Bloquet) who knows the place.
Some of the rules of religion come into play during the investigation, with the cloistered abbey leaving young Irene alone at times to investigate the arcane workings within.
(Note that it’s a little hard to delve into, or even skirt around, some of this film’s particular narrative and plot points without being a little more spoilery than usual, so I hope you’ll excuse the following.)
It turns out that the abbey is an ancient building with a complex past, and that a demonic rift has been opened up within.
Now there’s a demon on the loose, Valak, that’s taken the form of – what else – the titular demonic nun, ready to loose some merry mayhem.
However, perhaps there’s nun better than the investigators to take care of this demon (like a hitnun, if you will), although any even half-awake cinemagoers familiar with The Nun’s popping up in the later-set films might surmise that this isn’t exactly an open and shut case.
Like I said, it’s hard not to be a bit spoilery with this review, in particular, but that tends to be the nature of prequel films about a character who’s firmly established in later canon.
That was one of the narrative problems with the recent Han Solo flop on the big screen, and it’s one of the problems with Star Trek Discovery on the small screen.
After all, it’s hard to introduce genuine tension or drama with a character or overall narrative when you know that somehow, they or the central conceits will survive to be core pillars of any future-set iterations.
Still, as they say, “It’s the journey, not the destination”, and while the narrative outcome of the film is in doubt, the filmmakers try to tick off all that you’d expect from a horror.
Personally, I love a good horror film – not the gross, mean-spirited torture porn of the likes of the Hostel series, but classic or clever horror, which takes in everything from The Exorcist to the subversive The Cabin in The Woods to even Alien (hey, it’s space horror).
Alas, The Nun just seems to rattle along by repeatedly making use of a frighteningly large amount of horror cliches, with everything from demons to exorcisms and many tiresome jump scares in the mix.
The end result is a film that has some decent leads, occasionally great make-up and design, but underwhelms as it wails and screams along with all the menace of a fairground ghost train.