The “Conjuring” series of films and spinoffs has been a series of hits and misses thus far, with there being an unfortunate leaning towards the misses. The original franchise started on a very shaky note, with a bland, dull, scareless, and overly-long entry that failed to provide the frightening experience it desperately wanted to give to audiences, while the second film miraculously managed to improve in just about every area. Meanwhile, the “Annabelle” films tried to go off and do their own thing, only to stumble in their own attempts to elicit terror. Now we come to another prequel, “The Nun,” that seeks to explain the origin of the sinister spirit from “The Conjuring 2.” Will this prequel succeed where most of the other films in this shared universe have failed, or is it doomed to join the ranks of its subpar brethren?
Taking place in 1952, an evil spirit has taken residence in a convent in Romania, killing one nun and forcing another to take her own life. The Vatican sends a priest, Father Burke (Demian Bichir), and a nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), to investigate. They are assisted by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a local merchant who discovered the body of the nun who killed herself. It’s not long before the group discovers that there is something very strange going on, centered around the evil spirit (“Valak”) that requires a vessel to unleash its evil. Obviously Father Burke and co. cannot allow this to happen, forcing them to do everything in their power to try and stop the demon.
“The Nun” starts off with a fair amount of potential. There’s an intriguing mystery surrounding this convent, and a priest, nun, and a local go there to see what they can find out. The film provides a good amount of gothic atmosphere via real exteriors and well-designed sets that do a fine job of setting the proper tone for the story as our group goes about trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, while Academy Award nominee Demian Bichir provides a strong lead performance to give it a bit of gravitas. In theory, there really isn’t a reason that a film like this couldn’t have worked.
The major problem comes in the second half, where the film de-evolves into a non-stop series of cheap, ineffective, and obvious jump scares. For a film like this that put so much effort into evoking a sense of dread throughout, on top of getting a great actor like Bichir for the lead, only to have it go for the laziest of scares is a rather big disappointment. It really makes you wonder what could have been if they had put a lot more thought into how they wanted to elicit terror in the audience. That is, how horrifying would this have been if they had actually come up with something other than loud bangs on the soundtrack and combined it with the effective elements already contained in the film?
Unfortunately it will have to remain a “what if” kind of film, for aside from its looks and the talent involved, there isn’t really much here for a horror fan to sink their teeth into. It remains unclear why the folks behind this little horror universe felt the need to go back and tell this story in the first place. Was it just because it was an easy cash-grab, or did they feel that they actually had something interesting to say? I think we know what the obvious answer was here, but regardless, the film simply comes off as a pretty lazy attempt to scare audiences, while not even having much of anything to add to Valak’s story. Whatever the original intent was, it ultimately can’t help but sink down with the rest of the misfires in this franchise.
“The Nun” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. As expected, this is a very dark film for the majority of its 96-minute runtime, but the picture remains very sharp and clear throughout even the darkest scenes. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally impressive, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and creepy sound effects in excellent quality. Overall, there’s not a complaint to be had regarding the treatment that the film has received, leaving you with a great experience in both areas.
A New Horror Icon (5 Minutes): A brief featurette that takes a look at the film’s antagonist.
Gruesome Planet (6 Minutes): A featurette that explores the film’s shooting locations in Romania.
The Conjuring Chronology (4 Minutes): A featurette that explores the timeline of The Conjuring films and spinoffs.
Deleted Scenes (12 Minutes): A hefty selection of 24 deleted sequences, one of which gives you a little more background, but for the most part, don’t really add anything to the film.
“The Nun” boasts a creepy gothic atmosphere and a strong performance from Oscar nominee Demian Bichir, but thanks to its overreliance on cheap, ineffective jump scares, the film becomes just another misfire in the “Conjuring” universe. There’s no doubt that it had a fair amount of potential, but with so little thought put into the actual horror of the project, there was also little doubt that it would ultimately turn out this way.