Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) is the protagonist in this heretical horror filmWarner Bros. Pictures

From the first inverted cross, you know you’re in for a scary film, albeit a cliched one. The Nun creates and maintains suspense, tension and dread throughout. I found myself sinking in my seat as the film went on from sheer anticipation of the next scare. Yet while scary, this horror film falls a little short.

The Nun is the latest addition to the ‘Conjuring’ franchise. I have managed to find myself watching all of these films, despite some serious duds (The Conjuring 2 and Annabelle). These films are to modern horror what the Marvel films are to the superhero genre. Their stories are intertwined, but separated by a few decades and feature recurring demons (literally). There are even clips from the other films inserted into the one you’re watching, which work to show you it’s part of a series but are also a little jarring.

You always felt when it was coming: silence would fall, and then violins would suddenly start to swell.

The Nun follows the reemerging of an ‘evil’ in an abbey in Romania, and the attempts of the Catholic church to rid it of said ‘evil’. The main protagonist is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a nun who has visions which the church thinks may aid them in getting rid of this evil. As a former Catholic myself, I have always found the obsession with the church in these films a little sick and deranged. The Conjuring series takes the easy route of portraying the Catholic church as the ultimate good in the world - something which has not been my experience. But they have really leaned into the Catholic church in this one. The film is simply overflowing with nuns, priests and Catholic imagery.

Trailer for The NunWarner Bros. Pictures

All of these films rely heavily on horror cliches, nuns being the least of them. There are lots of creepy dolls, eerie children singing, fake looking fog, old houses, and most importantly, of course, the Catholic church. That line they have drawn between good (being the Catholic church) and evil shines most obviously in The Nun. This makes for some really striking images. The ‘good’ nun protagonist is dressed in a white habit, which is juxtaposed to the ‘bad’ nun who is in black. While I think black v white may be a fairly obvious visual trope for pursuing a simplistic good v evil narrative, it was there for the taking and was used beautifully.

It is a shame that the obvious talent in the making of this film didn’t make more of an attempt to create an atmosphere rather than relying on cheap thrills.

The most impressive scenes involved faces emerging from darkness. In my life, I have had experiences where I have looked too long into a dark room and seen what looked like a face looking back, and this haunting image led to me avoiding the dining room of my house entirely for many years.  By no means is this the first horror film to have things jump out of the darkness, yet there was something specifically about the recreation of these faces in the dark which felt entirely real and evoked genuine fear. Similar effects have been used in other films in the series, but their use in The Nun stands out. 

Films like this do deserve some comic relief, but it is unfortunate when the relief comes from a man flirting with a nun.

Yet the things I really enjoyed in the film were massively over-shadowed by a reliance on jump scares. While writing this I tried to think of a moment where I was not scared by a ‘jump’, and I came up short. You always felt when it was coming: silence would fall, and then violins would suddenly start to swell. I’m not saying they weren't terrifying, but I found such scares unsatisfactory, unearned, and after a few of them, a bit boring. It is a shame that the obvious talent in the making of this film didn’t make more of an attempt to create an atmosphere, rather than relying on cheap thrills.

The terrifying nuns will surely inspire many prayersWarner Bros. Pictures

I've seen an ungodly number of horror films and no longer expect Oscar-worthy performances, and the acting in The Nun was generally fit for purpose. Films like this do deserve some comic relief, but it is unfortunate when the relief comes from a man flirting with a nun. There were comic lines at the height of the tension which you weren’t sure you were meant to laugh at. At one pivotal point, Frenchie  (Jonas Bloquet) says, “holy shit”,  and the priest replies, “the holiest.” 


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Mountain View

Cold War review: a victorious film

Overall this film does the job it aims to do. It is scary, tense, ridiculous and because of all that, it’s really quite fun. Although it's one of the better films in the Conjuring series, and boasts notable technical quality, it won’t be making much of an impact on the horror-film landscape. This film treads old ground in horror of recent years – relying on jump scares, a simplistic narrative, and an assured happy resolution.

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