In Defense of: The Nun
Sam Lenz stands up for Corin Hardy’s much maligned gothic horror film.
People agreed that Valak, the demon nun from The Conjuring 2, was a scene stealer, but her standalone film failed to give critics and audiences faith. Despite being a box office success, ensuring that we’ll see Valek in the multiplex again, buzz around The Nun was largely negative. Yet, there are some excellent elements to the film that make it an enjoyable, if flawed, experience. Let’s dive into the positives of this movie. *Spoilers ahead!*
When Vera Farmiga’s younger sister Taissa was cast in this film, a lot of people thought she would be a young Lorraine Warren, Vera’s role in The Conjuring films. While this didn’t end up being the case, it proved to be a great casting choice. I have been a fan of Farmiga since her turn in 2015’s Final Girls, and she continues to shine in the role of Sister Irene. Irene is a nun in training, who shows some hesitation to take her vows. It’s clear from her first scene that Irene is a free thinker, and struggles with some of the church’s rules and regulations. This makes for a powerful moment that kicks off the third act, in which Irene decides to take her vows before facing off with the demon Valak. Farmiga performs all of this with more restraint and maturity than most actresses twice her age, proving that she is a rising star to watch closely.
She is supported out by Demian Bichir as Father Burke and Jonas Bloquet as Frenchie. Father Burke is given a tragic backstory involving the botched exorcism of a child, which Bichir plays with conviction, even if the script leaves it half-baked. Bloquet is excellent as Frenchie, who is a surprisingly humorous character. Bloquet’s natural charisma and sense of comic timing give some much welcome breaks in the increasingly grim proceedings.
The true scene stealer, however, is Valak, the demon nun, an instant icon, thanks to a committed performance from Bonnie Aarons. Director Corin Hardy uses her sparingly, teasing her appearance for a good deal of the run time before letting her loose on camera, but she is sensed from the opening scene. It’s clear that Aarons loves the genre and relishes the role. She’s instantly synonymous with the titular character, much like Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger. This movie is hers, and she owns it.
A lot of people took issue with the fact that The Nun seemed to rely on jump scares. While there were a fair number of them, they were backed by a genuinely creepy atmosphere. Hardy’s decision to shoot on location in Romanian castles add to the film’s sense of dread. These are real places, and they feel lived in (or, in the abbey’s case, abandoned). Yes, things go bump in the night and pop out around corners frequently, but the build up between these moments cranks up the tension. The Nun’s presence is always felt, even when she is not on screen.
The cinematography is also something to behold. Certain scenes are shot in ways that make them truly engaging, specifially a scene in which a chapel full of praying nuns is under attack by an unseen Valak. Another scene in which Father Burke is buried alive in a coffin is shot so well, the audience is practically stuffed into the coffin with him. Maxime Alexandre is not stranger to horror films, and he proves once again here that he knows how to film an unsettling sequence.
That Rad Third Act
As I said earlier, Farmiga’s Sister Irene has a great moment leading into the third act. Irene, after realizing that Valak has already taken every nun in the abbey down (the Sisters that she’s been talking to were merely visions), decides to declare her faith and take her vows before fighting such a dangerous evil. This scene plays out like a superhero origin story, with Irene finally coming to grips with her powers. It’s epic, it’s badass, and Farmiga’s performance instills it with a sense of gravity.
The three leads head into the catacombs, where they find a reliquary containing the blood of Christ. Things go horribly wrong for them in a sequence that finds Valak attempting to drown Irene in a pool of water flooding the catacombs. In an impressive feat of lung capacity (and a blatant snub to basic human biology), Irene hides the blood of Christ in her mouth and spits it into Valak’s face, therefore defeating the demon and banishing it from our world. That’s right, Irene literally spits her faith in the demon’s face. It’s such an epic moment, I can overlook the “Wait, how?” questions that, upon further thought, popped into my mind.
In the end, it’s revealed that Valak possessed Frenchie. It then flashes forward to Frenchie being exorcised by the Warrens of The Conjuring films, explaining how Valak ended up attaching itself to Lorraine. It’s a nice stinger to end the film on, if not wholly necessary.
Is The Nun going to be on any “best of” lists of 2018? Probably not, but the hate it gets is absurd. Critics savaged this film, to the point where it has a worse Rotten Tomatoes score than Annabelle. I can’t justify that in my mind. The Nun gothic horror that manages some genuine thrills and chills, and it boasts one of the best horror villains in recent memory. It’s only real crime is a reliance on jump scares and a thin plot. Luckily though, it made enough money at the box office to warrant a sequel. If James Wan and company can create a plot that moves along quicker and incorporate less jump scares, they will surely have a winner on their hands. Wan has a history of learning from his mistakes (see Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation). I, for one, am excited to see the return of Valak.