Review: Repent for 'The Nun' Has Sinned

This review was originally published for UW Film Club and has since been republished here with the author’s permission.

The Nun marks the fifth film in “The Conjuring Universe,” and we’ve come a long way since the original in 2013. After a sequel and two spinoffs, the malicious nun finally gets her own theatrical release, and just like Annabelle before it, it too is another shameless studio cash grab that stiffens any potential it ever had and relegates itself to a truly awful horror film. 

In what can only be seen as a film that muddies the history of the franchise, the film kicks off with a pair of nuns trying to contain a demonic presence inside of a Romanian Abby. When one of them commits suicide, the Vatican sends Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) and Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to investigate the situation only to find something much more sinister at play, a shapeshifting demon named Valak that is looking for a new vessel to call home and spread his ill-doings. 

The cardinal sin of The Nun is how it inexplicably reuses so many scares with so little awareness of what it is doing. Panning an object out of frame only for it to disappear and then reappear happens at least five times in the film. Using negative space to present a looming threat over our protagonist and build “suspense” occurs at least ten times. A ghostly apparition coming from behind and grabbing Irene or Burke happens at least three times. And the jump scares are so bountiful you’ll need a second pair of hands to count. You cannot use these scares so often and expect the audience to reasonably buy into them again and again. It’s abhorrent and I found myself in utter disbelief that no one during the pre-production realized how similar all their ‘scares’ were to one another. It’s a rinse and repeat formula that is tiresome after their second use. 

From the premise, it’s hard not to think of Aislinn Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway which just so happened to be released earlier this year. While not one to one, the settings and religious imagery is used to greater effect in Clarke’s outing. To the production designer’s credit The Nun’s sets are the best part in the film. From the opening moments, you get a terrific eerie setting of a remote gothic abby that had the makings of something truly sinister, but the failings of the film’s script and direction undermine the well realized locale. From history and past cinematic endeavors, Christianity has been loaded with unsettling symbolism that, if utilized properly, can make for some unworldly, supernatural experiences, but even with these inherent characteristics, The Nun can only sustain them for so long before it falls off and falls victim to its own sins.

Negative space shots like this are a dime a dozen in ‘The Nun.’

Negative space shots like this are a dime a dozen in ‘The Nun.’

Another major hinderance is how it injects blatant attempts at comedy into scenes. I have never been to a screening where so many attendees were laughing not at what was being said but rather at the shear absurdity of it. Mostly conveyed through the relief character Frenchy (Jonas Bloquet), these moments of comedy are reminiscent of that of Get Out, but where that film aimed to be a social commentary, this film is strictly in it for the scares, and when comedy is so haphazardly placed inside of a horror film, it torpedos the atmosphere and tone.

The Nun is a sin through and through. From the undeniably lazy recycle of scares to it’s cheesy comedy, the film has very little salvage value. Anyone interested in this film for its creepy religious looks should seriously consider The Devil’s DoorwayThe Exorcist, or anything else really as they will surely be better services to theological themes and scares than this will. Corin Hardy should really repent for what his has done with this one.

1.75/5 STARS