Directed by Corin Hardy. Starring Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Charlotte Hope.
The Plot: Romania, 1952. Sister Victoria (Charlotte Hope) commits an apparent suicide after she’s stalked by a malevolent presence in her remote countryside convent. The Vatican tasks Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a specialist in such off-the-record cases, to investigate further. Joining him is novice nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who has yet to take her vows. When they arrive in Romania, an atmosphere of dread and suspicion soon descends. The convent is living in the dark shadow of the demon Valak (Bonnie Aarons), who is posing as a terrifying nun. Local handyman Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) assists them in their investigations. However, Father Burke and Sister Irene will have their faith put to the ultimate test in a battle of good vs pure evil…
The Verdict: As if The Conjuring didn’t scare audiences enough, this intriguing cinematic universe branches out further still with The Nun. It provides an origin story for the demon Valak, glimpsed to unnerving effect in The Conjuring 2. Banish all thoughts of the charming Audrey Hepburn taking her vows in The Nun’s Story. This nun has a major axe to grind with living souls, intent on scaring the living daylights out of audiences. In that regard, it mostly succeeds. Unlike the lacklustre Annabelle spin-offs, The Nun is more effective in its delivery – a mix of dread, jump scares and unnerving scenes like the Poe-like premature burial. Are you sitting uncomfortably?
Following up his visually striking, Irish-shot creature feature The Hallow, Corin Hardy is the right man for this particular job. He knows his horror, tipping his upended crucifix to vintage Hammer horror. There are suspicious Romanian villagers, decrepit environments and the strong belief in the power of faith to triumph over evil. The only thing that’s missing is a village barman looking away and saying ‘There’s no convent here’. Hardy enhances this atmosphere dripping with evil by pumping up the production design and eerie red lighting to give this dying convent an otherworldly feel. It’s a fully-fledged horror film that proudly wears its bloody badge on its chest and doesn’t cop out like recent diet horrors (looking at you, Slender Man).
Sure, there are flaws. An elaborate backstory for Valak is briefly hinted at, but is given short shrift as a brief flashback. Something like that needs to be front and centre as a prologue, just to add a bit more value to the proceedings. Otherwise, Valak might just come across as another spooky presence to be overcome. Thankfully, it doesn’t due to some well-staged confrontations. Bloquet’s potential love interest / saviour is an unnecessary add-on to a story that works just fine in the company of our two characters of the cloth. The Nun could have been another bland horror, but instead it has the best of both worlds. It’s a horror throwback that feels modern, strong on atmospherics and the kind of scares modern audiences expect, but with an old-school charm that is welcome.