Directed by: Corin Hardy, Starring: Demián Bichir,Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons. Horror. US 2018, 96mins, Cert 15.
In cinemas now.
Director Corin Hardy (THE HALLOW) is given the keys to the supernatural sandbox that is THE CONJURING universe, and delivers an unapologetic gothic Hammer inspired spin-off. Having made such an impression with her brief appearance charging at Vera Farmiga’s character from a painting in THE CONJURING 2, the demonic entity known as ‘Valak’, who inherits the form of a nun (Bonnie Aarons), is gifted an origin story all her own.
It’s 1952. Following the suicide of a nun at a remote monastery in Romania, the Vatican dispatch a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir),and a young nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) in her novitiate to investigate the death and to establish whether the abbey can still be considered as holy ground. (Minor spoiler alert: no!).
A fog enshrouded graveyard where the headstones are adorned with bells for buried plague-victims to ring in case of premature burial, a labyrinthine maze of foreboding corridors, and a backdrop of spooked horses and villages too scared (and too sensible) to visit the ecclesiastical hell house in the mountains. All that’s missing is a James Bernard score and rubber bats daggling on strings.
It’s a brave move to set the entire fifth instalment of James Wan’s supernatural franchise in this period setting (which flash-backs further still into the abbey’s dark past). It’s certainly one that requires an adjustment of sensibilities that some multiplex patrons (and even some mainstream critics) might struggle with.
Full disclosure. I watched THE NUN on the biggest screen in the UK at the BFI IMAX on the Southbank. The combined sound and visual presentation on the huge immersive screen certainly heightened the experience – but at its heart the film is essentially a 90+ minute ghost train ride, or a haunted walk-through attraction where something (or someone) jumps out at you every few minutes – boo! And it’s great fun.
So it’s THE SOUND OF MUSIC with Taissa Farmiga as a non-singing Maria, enduring a host of her least favourite things wrapped up in packages of sting and occasionally spine shudderingly effective jump scares which enlist both the inhabitant nuns as well as THE nun (who is judiciously wheeled out only sparingly from the shadows). Director Hardy continues to seemingly stage homage’s to Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci with CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD’S premature burial sequence following on from THE HALLOW’s eyeball trauma from ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS. The bookending sequences from the respective CONJURING films seem superfluous calling cards (and the retconning of the ending from the first CONJURING is a naughty cheat).
But THE NUN is lavishly mounted, gloriously overblown, with sumptuous gothic production design and a plethora of visual tricks to prod you in the dark with. Definitely worth the price of a ticket to ride this ghost train.
**** (out of 5*)