*. The Nun marks the fifth entry in the Conjuring Universe franchise (following The Conjuring, Annabelle, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle: Creation). Yes, it’s a universe. That’s what they call franchises now when they make enough money. And while the Conjuring Universe hasn’t drawn in the bucks of the Marvel and Star Wars series, their return on investment has been even more impressive.
*. Some of these movies have been OK. With The Nun, however, I think we’ve passed peak Conjuring. As with Annabelle it takes a spooky if silent design element and runs with it (a doll and a painting of a nun respectively). In this film the character of the Nun is traced back to a convent in Romania that sits on top of a portal to hell built by a duke in the Dark Ages (whenever that was). After a random bombing in the Second World War (the film is set in 1952) the portal reopens and shit happens.
*. It’s all pretty standard stuff, going back as far as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. That familiarity, however, brings with it a lot of laziness. At the end of this film I wasn’t even sure who the Nun was. I suppose she’s an embodiment of Valak (a.k.a. Valak the Defiler, the Profane, the Marquis of Snakes), which is to say presumably a nun who was possessed at some earlier point. Perhaps we’ll need a prequel to this prequel to explain that a bit better. But in any event, almost nothing about Valak is clear, at least to me. Including what his/her game is. A lot of this obscurity may be due to the fact that, like Annabelle, the Nun doesn’t speak. I think she has one throwaway line at the end, but that’s it.
*. But the sense we have of traveling well-trodden ground goes deeper than this, and ties in to that notion of peak Conjuring I mentioned. These movies all share the same horror playbook, especially with the jump scares and slow pans that reveal figures lurking behind the protagonists. There are scenes where characters reach out to pull a veil back from a face. Several scenes. All done very slowly. There are shots down long corridors. There are dark rooms where we can only make out indistinct shapes before the lights are extinguished entirely. In fact, this film is so dark it becomes an eye strain after a while. I could barely see anything.
*. I also had trouble hearing a lot of the dialogue, which is too bad because what I did hear was pretty funny. When Irene (the good nun, played by Taissa Farmiga) explains that they have to seal up the portal with the blood of Christ her hunky but not too bright sidekick Frenchie says “Christ? Jesus Christ?” That’s a classic. Then, when the relic with said blood is found and the awestruck Frenchie says “Holy shit,” the priest responds “The holiest.”
*. Apparently the director (Corin Hardy) had a Catholic priest bless the set before shooting started. When the film was released it was reviewed by real nuns who discussed the film from a theological perspective. This is what the Church has been reduced to in the twenty-first century.
*. It was panned by critics and audiences but made a ton of money and a sequel was announced as inevitable. I can’t say anything nice about it aside from the fact that it looks good, based on the parts of it I could see. Say what you will of this gang, but they do know how to stretch a buck. You don’t waste money on big stars, or a name director, or even a script. You just go with what you know, and expect people to be willing to pay for more of the same. It’s worked so far.