The marks of a good horror movie include built-up tension, an atmosphere of discomfort and impending terror to the audience that remains consistent, witty dialogue, an air of unnerving mystery surrounding the antagonist, and an eerie ending which does anything but bring closure to the story.
The Nun (2018) miserably failed to achieve any of those marks and is by far the worst entry of The Conjuring universe, and quite possibly, one of the poorest horror movies of this decade.
Set in 1952, a demon disguised as a nun terrorises two Roman Catholic nuns at the Carta Monastery in Romania. One of them gets killed and the remaining nun, Sister Victoria, commits suicide to stop the demon from possessing her body which would significantly increase its powers. The Vatican summon Father Burke (Demian Bechir) to Rome and tell him to travel to Romania to investigate the suicide. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) accompanies him.
The film is directed by Corin Hardy, a relative unknown who’s only other feature film is 2015’s The Hallow according to IMDB. American Horror Story regular Taissa Farmiga features in the starring role of Sister Irene. Unfortunately, she couldn’t bring any of her talents from the acclaimed FX series into her first feature-length horror flick. The rest of the cast were so abysmal, it’s not even worth mentioning their names and assessing their individual performances.
A good horror movie requires there to be a slow build-up of tension towards its most terrifying scenes. The Nun does away with the tension entirely and throws you into the scares and horrors straight from the opening sequence. From the very beginning, your mind and your body already get used to what the demon haunting the monastery is capable of and how it’s going to unleash its scare tactics for the rest of the film.
What makes an effective horror movie truly terrifying are long, drawn-out segments that are incessantly causing a great deal of discomfort for the audience, constantly keeping them on the edge of their seats in a perpetual state of dread. When the end product of the built-up tension comes bursting out of the screens, you feel trapped, helpless, and terrified, and desiring nothing more than to dash out of the cinema running for dear life.
The Nun achieves “nun” of this (forgive the pun…and the rhyme). It sticks to lazy jump scares, and the scenes which are supposedly building up to those scares are short and meaningless. The loud, demon-coming-to-get-you segments where the protagonist seems to have no means of escape happen all too often over long periods. You just become desensitised to the supposed “terror” very quickly and early in the movie.
And the supposed source of that terror, the titular character herself (or itself?), couldn’t become any more familiar over the course of the movie. What naturally scares people is the unknown. The mysterious. The uncertain. What especially scares the living shit out of people is an unseen malicious entity causing excruciating discomfort to its victims while remaining hidden for long, drawn-out periods. The simmering tension in the air is meant to grow into something unbearable for both the victims and the audience.
When the movie’s dispensable characters are picked off one-by-one or generally uneasy events are taking place, the atmosphere surrounding these scenes should be shrouded in a cloud of terrifying mystery. When the true source of the horror finally reveals itself in its entire shape and form, should the filmmakers decide to do that rather than never showing it, it should be so mortifying that it scars you for the next few days. You shouldn’t be able to sleep soundly. You should be compelled to keep a light on while in bed while still feeling profoundly disturbed. It’s meant to make you question your reality and wonder whether the events of the horror movie you just watched could possibly ever happen in real life.
The demon nun herself appears far too frequently and receives too much screen time to instil any of these senses in the audience. She almost becomes a camp villain in a comic superhero movie, or the main antagonist in a monster flick. Her pale face, glowing irises, black silhouette, and demonic roars do very little to even have you squirming, let alone feeling scared or disturbed.
Finally, a good horror movie must have smart dialogue that is competently thought out. Effective tongue-in-cheek humour and the occasional self-aware campy line are marks of a well-written horror flick. The Nun’s script has lines that are so painfully cheesy, you can almost smell the stink of blue cheese that has been left out for three days. This might be the only horror movie in which I’ve cringed more than winced. In fact, the cringing was what was unbearable, as opposed to what was intentionally meant to be the scaring. The campy lines feel forced and are poorly delivered, and never seem to come across naturally from the characters muttering them. The writers strictly followed an overly formulaic Hollywood trope manual.
Don’t waste your money. Don’t believe the hype. And certainly don’t believe the insanely unacceptable 7.6/10 rating on elcinema.com. This motion picture was not worth the usual concluding summary and it wasn’t even worth an entire konafa.