Before you go on, you should know I’m going to spoil the film for you. That’s not because I will tell you what happens, but because you can figure out what the movie is trying to do – desperately trying to do – very early on. I will start with the positives. This should clue you in that my real intention is getting to the negatives. Just so you know, this might be one of my longest reviews ever.
The Nun had potential. It had a lot of potential. It had the atmosphere, a decrepit old abby in the middle of Rumania. It had the religious feel with the Church, the priests, a portal to hell, a sacred relic, scared townsfolk… It’s not like we’ve never been here before but director Corin Hardy’s film is missing that slow sinking feeling that you can find in other movies. It almost seems like the material is insufficient, but really there are films that have done so much more with a lot less. Sorry, there wasn’t enough positives for a complete paragraph.
The movie begins with a tale of an evil presence in a remote abby in Rumania where one nun opens a door that shouldn’t be open only to realize that the door should’ve have been open in the first place. Then a second nun commits suicide so that she won’t be possessed. Oh yeah, the movie doesn’t reveal that until later. I happened to know that old chestnut of suicide-to-stop-possession since The Exorcist.
A more slow burn horror would have suited the theme better, but the producers opted for cheap jump scares throughout the entire film. That means mirrors, turning around, looking up, music starts to rise in crescendo, etc. Put a modern scary movie on mute and let me know if it’s still scary. Very soon, the movie starts rehashing jump scares as there’s so much mirrors, turning around and slow reveals we can take. Then it literally goes for almost every horror movie trope out there.
Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) travel to the Rumanian countryside to investigate the nun’s suicide. Their main witness, tourist guide and Scooby-doo role player is Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet). Farmiga does an above decent performance with what she’s given, but it’s one shining light in a field of dull and repetitive horror tropes. Bloquet’s character had entertainment potential, but I think the movie shied away of giving him too much camera time.
(Wow, this is long. Sorry, the less I like a film the more I have to explain it)
My main problem starts within the first night that Father Burke and Sister Irene arrive. We’re sure to get some jump scares through the night, but just as the night as fallen and we’ve already begun the movie stops. Ok, not the movie but the storyline and the scene in progress stop because Sister Irene sets up Father Burke so that he might tell some backstory out of the blue. In other words, it’s exposition time.
This is the equivalent of one of your friends telling you this really story that is really cool and stuff. Then he stops in the middle of a scene because he forgot to tell you about some character’s backstory. You need to know now that backstory now because it’s about to be relevant right after the scene continues. My reaction to the movie doing this is the same that when a friend does it: you should have told me this before. Some exposition is necessary, and expected. A lot can be tiresome. Too much is poor planning. You know a clear sign when exposition is too much? When it requires a flashback backstory with background narration.
I don’t mind flashback-style stories as long as they run parallel to the main storyline. But when a character stops in the middle of a scene to tell a side story which has that character’s voice as the background narrator… It’s something that feels tacked on for padding. This is not the only time that the movie does this. It also refers once more to the backstory of the abby – to be clear, that’s literally the same story we knew – with flashbacks and narration again to introduce the proverbial MacGuffin to defeat evil: The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch!
(Okey, okey, it’s not called that, sorry! Just checking if you’re still awake)
It’s the blood of Christ contained in a relic that looks more like a Kinder Joy plastic egg. Don’t worry, Sister Irene already foreshadowed how to locate the egg – I mean relic – at the beginning of the movie. The fact that the characters spend almost five minutes figuring it out was one of the most frustrating five minutes of my life (sorry to the couple seating to my right, I whispered the answer under my breath before the five minutes were up and I think I got a dirty look).
Add to exposition the fact that this movie throws in a ton of cliches from other scary films. Yes, Hammer Production films had similar settings, that’s where the similarities both start and stop. You can call it a homage (and apparently some people do) but when everything seems to fizz out, it feels more like you’re throwing stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks. There’s even a ripoff of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Premature Burial (you might know it better adapted to film as “Buried Alive”) thrown in for almost no reason. Hell, I’ve seen the topic of the sanctity of places being fouled handled better in side quests from Blizzard’s Diablo game series.
(Hey, you’re still reading this long ass-review. I’m almost done, I swear)
What it looks like to me, is that the movie is trying so desperately to scare you but it doesn’t believe it has enough material. It keeps borrowing tricks from horror movies old and new. Every few minutes it gives up and resorts to jump scares again. I will give Bonnie Arons (she plays the proverbial Nun) her due, she can be a scary sight when on screen for a couple of seconds. However, the more she is on screen and the closer the camera is, the less scary she gets. It’s even less scary when the CGI kicks in.
Perhaps I could recommend it for the casual popcorn-loving horror crowd that is not paying too much attention to the screen or the plot but I’d like to think there’s more discerning, more demanding viewers out there of any age. I wanted so bad to like, even love, this movie but it just fell flat. The promotion team before the screening who dressed up as scary faceless nuns did far a greater job of giving you the creepy scare that anything the movie did. Mainstream cinema doesn’t get a pass out of pity where Fantasia had so much amazing horror films that are still looking for distribution. That amount of wasted opportunity is a sin that has no forgiveness.
That will do for now.