The Nun Taissa FarmigaYear: 2018
Director(s): Corin Hardy
Writer(s): Gary Dauberman, James Wan
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 96 mins

Synopsis: A priest and a novice on the threshold of her final vows are sent to investigate the death of a young nun in Romania. (Source)

In its favor, The Nun is visually stunning, besting most of its peers with a gothic story that draws us in with its ornate darkness. Director Corin Hardy definitely has a talent for the unsettling, bathing most of the film in oppressive blacks and opting for moments of sustained dread and atmosphere. There’s a lot to admire with Hardy’s visual flair, but unfortunately, there isn’t enough story to sustain its style. Unlike The Conjuring’s strong characters and emotional hook, this film’s succession of scares amount to little more than skin and bones. Sure, it all leads to an admittedly exciting climax, but mostly, the film is repetitious and obvious. Without characters to root for and an evil that isn’t really defined, the film falls somewhere in the middle. The Nun isn’t bad, but it also isn’t good enough to be great.

After the Vatican learns about the suicide of a young nun in Romania, it enlists the help of Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a so-called “Miracle Hunter” usually sent to investigate uncommon occurrences and events within the church. He’s partnered with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a young postulant who has yet to take her vows. When the pair arrive at the storied Abbey, they soon realize that a sinister force has overtaken it. Confined within, they’re forced to fight for their lives and prevent an evil spirit from escaping into an unsuspecting world.

The film’s biggest sin is that it’s a real mixed bag. On the bright side, Hardy commits to his unique setting and builds a self-contained world full of twisted religious iconography and supernatural frights. With most of the film taking place within the cursed Abbey, the film keeps pace and never really gets dull. On the bad, Hardy does rely on the same scare tactics too often, opting for bait-and-switch jump scares that are aggressive and fun at first, but quickly become common place and uninspired. Still, there are some really great set pieces here. The Abbey’s chapel contributes a few of the more nightmarish and surreal moments, while an underground network of catacombs come alive to sinister effect. Ultimately, it is frustrating for the film to merely use its rich subject matter for window dressing. Too often, films like this about spiritual evil don’t get spiritual enough, making everything feel cheap and without real purpose.

The Nun reviewAn aspect of the film that shines amidst the darkness, is its cast. Demian Bichir is woefully underrated, a pure talent who gives Burke conviction and stoicism. He feels wasted in the film’s final act, but Bichir adds gravitas and weight regardless. Farmiga is the film’s heart. There’s a genuine charm and strength that she exudes, but it’s quashed in the way that her character isn’t given enough room to really grow and flourish. She no doubt could’ve carried the film on her own – she’s that good. Jonas Bloquet works as the unexpected comedic relief, but his character does at times feel as if it’s from another movie.

Perhaps the strangest thing about The Nun, is that its titular character is almost an absentee. It’s presented as this abstract force, one steeped in mystery but with very little backstory or mythology. Though there’s a simple explanation about the entity’s origin, nothing really piques our interest in a way that sticks. Compared to how striking the spectere was in Conjuring 2, it’s unfortunate that on its own turf, the demon mostly sticks to the shadows and is relegated to fleeting jolts rather than really getting under our skin. All in all, I didn’t dislike the film, but it is sad to see so much promise talent confined by limitations. This thing is definitely watchable, but simply doesn’t dream big enough.