It’s safe to say that the producers of 2013’s The Conjuring have continued to find new and interesting ways to expand upon their franchise. From the first (pretty excellent) chapter to the rock-solid traditional sequel to spin-offs (Annabelle) and prequels to said spin-offs (Annabelle: Creation) — and more on the way — it looks like James Wan and company have quietly built their own little “shared universe” of horror, and have been doing some really solid business with this game plan. It’s pleasantly ironic (at least to me, because I am old) that each of these films have found lots of younger fans despite being fairly low-key, old-fashioned, slow-burn style horror movies. Say what you will about this series, but it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than basic slasher stuff or yet another predictable zombie attack — and it’s Wan’s obvious affection for old-school classic horror cinema that helps keep things interesting. (Go check out his second feature again! Dead Silence is due for reappraisal!)
The latest chapter in this supernatural saga is called The Nun. It’s a grim, gloomy, understated horror tale that. truth be told, probably would have bored me back when I was a wee little 15-year-old horror geek. But as a grown-up who has grown to appreciate things like mood, atmosphere, and good acting I don’t mind saying that The Nun simply hit me in the right spot this morning. Sure, it’s a very basic (even familiar) story about two representatives of the church who travel to a distant location — in the case a Romanian convent — to check up on a reported suicide, only to be set upon by something very evil — but it’s also just calmly, consistently creepy. And let’s just be honest here; it’s nice to see a horror movie populated solely by adults once in a while. Nothing against teens and kids within the horror realm, obviously, but a flick about three grown-ups and some haunted nuns also struck me as a nice change of pace. At least as far as multiplexes are concerned.
Director Corin Hardy (The Hallow, and I don’t mean The Gallows) and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre are clearly intent on evoking the doom, gloom, and eerie atmosphere of a lovely old Hammer Horror production, and screenwriter Gary Dauberman seems to be actively challenging modern horror fans to settle down and enjoy a slightly more sedate piece of Gothic horror. From the early 1950s production design and costumes to the ominous locations tucked deep inside the haunted convent there’s an obvious attempt at delivering something slightly more mature than what we normally see in studio-released horror films. It certainly doesn’t hurt that both leads are pretty great. Taissa Farmiga, as Sister Irene, the newbie nun who suspects foul play, and Demian Bichir, as the weary but noble Father Burke, strike an unlikely chemistry as they dig into the mysteries of the convent’s history. And Jonas Bloquet provides some essential charm and comic relief as a French-Canadian ally who proves to be quite helpful indeed when it comes to curses and possessions and such.
Though it’s most assuredly a horror film, The Nun is perhaps better approached as a period piece mystery with some decidedly occult leanings. Hardy may lean a bit too heavily on simple jump scares and dream sequences for my liking (and I might have thrown a few extra characters into the mix, if only to bolster the mystery angle and provide for a few more murders!) but there’s still quite a bit to appreciate here. It’s hard to say if this particular chapter in the Conjure-verse will scare up huge crowds at the box office but it’s one that should prove to be a pleasant surprise to intrepid horror fans who eventually discover it on their own TVs.