The Nun shows exactly how you go about kicking off a dark cinematic universe.
I seem to be getting into the habit of watching horror movies at the cinema, so when the fifth instalment of arguably the 21st century’s second most successful cinematic universe gave me an opportunity to start the story in chronological order (I haven’t yet seen any of the Conjuring movies or spin-offs), it was time for me to take my vows.
When news of a suicide at a remote Romanian convent reaches the Vatican, they dispatch Father Burke (Demián Bichir), a priest with a haunted past and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novice on the threshold of her final vows are sent to investigate. Joruneying to the remote castle with the help of local guide Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), they quickly discover a history of demonic activity and must struggle against the malevolent spirit of the demonic Nun Valak.
Now the Nun herself is a fantastic horror creation, creepy and frightening – all the more so when lurking half-seen in the background or looming in the shadows. Admittedly, I would have found The Nun a great deal more unnerving had I not seen Sharon Needles win season four of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, but even so I’m an absolute sucker for horror movies that lean heavily into Catholic iconography and “The Nun” has it in spades.
While it packs in plenty of atmosphere and creeping dread, apart from a few well-contrived jump scares, it’s not – it has to be said – particularly scary. There’s a great build-up to the very first night spent at the convent but from there it escalates so quickly and so unequivocally supernaturally that our heroes’ decision to remain and investigate without reinforcements is simply absurd. But it’s in that absurdity that “The Nun” reveals its true essence. Not as a bone-chilling, nerve-shredding terrifying horror movie but in a spooky, swashbuckling adventure horror in the mould of 1999’s “The Mummy”. In fact, “The Nun” resembles nothing so much as Stephen Sommers’ “The Mummy” meets “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” if it had been on HBO and free of the constraints of network TV. And it is an absolute hoot.
In amongst all the portentous iconography and air of malevolence, there’s an adorably goofy streak to the protagonists that just adds to the enjoyment. Father Burke seems to be the Vatican’s most experienced yet also most easily distracted paranormal investigator, Sister Irene’s go-to move of plaintively calling out ‘Hello?’ to any given sinister figure wandering around occurs so often you’ll wonder whether she’s been possessed by a Lionel Richie tribute act and the last time Frenchie was called upon to help out this much, it was to give Sandy Olsson a slutty makeover. “The Nun” certainly has no fear of acknowledging its influences, riffing on “The Evil Dead”, Universal’s Classic Monster Movies, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, “The Sound Of Music” and even “Monty Python And The Holy Grail”, the list goes on and on.
It’s all a gruesome, gory lark and although I know this is meant to be the starting point for the whole “Conjuring” cinematic universe, I’d absolutely be up for more movies focussing on these three Holy goofballs investigating other spooky shenanigans in a series of their own spin-off series of Scooby-Doo style adventures. Anchored by the terrific chemistry of the heroic triad of Father Burke, Sister Irene and Frenchie plus the genuinely creepy cinematography and production design, I don’t think I’ve had so much fun watching a horror movie since the classic days of “The Evil Dead II” or “A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master”. There may be dozens of horror movies which are more terrifying but if you’re in the mood to have a great time, there’s Nun better.