Having heard nothing particularly positive about ‘The Nun’, a spin off film from one of the more terrifying characters from James Wan’s ‘Conjuring’ universe, I let the cinema release pass me by. Then, an impromptu viewing of ‘Insidious 2’ left me wanting for more of the same.
With nothing to loose I settled in for an evening with Sister Valek (the demon inhabiting the titular Nun). I wasn’t disappointed, but that’s not to say there aren’t a few things to consider before viewing.
The films plot is set before the events outlined in ‘The Conjuring 2’, in 1950s Romania to be exact. The film opens with the demonic assault and resultant suicide of a Nun in an isolated convent, said to be the site of great evil. Disturbed by a Sister committing such a sin, Church officials send in two investigators and a local guide to ensure that the rest of the clergy are doing well. They are not. Soon enough the trio find themselves battling an ancient evil for control of their very souls.
In all honesty the plot is the kind of studio cliché you would expect, but there’s no denying, whilst it might not be all that creative, it kind of does the job. However, I was impressed with was the style through which the story is told. Whilst I’ve no idea about the movie’s filming locations, the traditional Gothic style looks awesome. The primitive Romanian village setting and medieval stone castle really do well to draw you into a spiritual battle which takes place well away from the modern world. The castle’s limited electricity supply means the maze of hallways and chambers are dimly lit, flickering with dying flame. The sisters vow of silence creates an eerie atmosphere within the convent. The guests are not welcome, and there is certainly something ‘wrong’ with the place – even before Sister V shows her ugly mug.
Indeed the cinematography is really quite impressive, and for the earlier parts of the film I really enjoyed the films restraint in ensuring a tense and creepy atmosphere develops naturally. At its best the film looks like classic horror, with effective use of shadows, lighting and some eerie out of focus shots of the ominous presence, persistent, foreboding, but patiently waiting for its time to strike. The small cast play their characters well, and each seem to have an organic part to play in the story without becoming cliché or simply fodder. Again, time is afforded to each of them to get to know them and see what makes them tick.
The film is genuinely creepy; right up to the point where it tries to be scary.
I’m not one to throw around the term ‘jump scare’ like its a dirty word, but with ‘The Nun’ I found them to be in direct conflict with the excellent build-up to some equally impressive set pieces. Baying to modern fashion, the overuse of CGI monster effects and loud and brash jolts simply interrupts the flow of the movie. One the one hand the demon (most often in the guise of a nun) drifts around the convent, in and out of focus, toying with the characters with some truly grim images and defilement of the other sisters, then in the next shot ‘she’ is screaming in their faces and throwing them around.
The action sequences, albeit quite impressive from a cinematic stand-point, just call into question all sort of continuities. I get why Valek would want to freak the shit out of the three who have been sent to stop her, after all, she wants them weak to take their souls. I don’t, however, get why she goes to all the effort of putting together some truly elaborate and macabre illusions often to mask her identity, only to then come screaming down the corridor or pop out of a doorway at the earliest convenience. There are some other daft moments here and there to, but for the most part I was willing to overlook them on the basis that its to be expected from studio popcorn horror; the ‘scares’ however became something of a chore as the movie progressed.
In summary: The atmosphere and the chills were awesome but those scares took the easy way out.