THE NUN Review: Welcome To Jump-Scare Hell
Look, on paper, I don't dislike the idea of a Conjuring shared universe.
James Wan's 2013 haunted house flick sets it up perfectly: you've got these two paranormal investigators, the Warrens, and they're sitting on a mountain of spooky bullshit. It's right there in their house, in a little makeshift museum. They've got evil dolls, they've got creepy paintings, they've got haunted umbrella stands - there's all kinds of stuff in there. The story behind one of these artifacts (the evil doll, Annabelle) famously served as the basis for The Conjuring's opening sequence, wherein our intrepid heroes brought said evil doll to justice before locking it inside a tiny phone booth in their home.
With Annabelle safely (???) stored away in her little glass prison, The Conjuring went on to follow the Warrens on a completely different adventure, one which audiences gobbled up to the tune of over $300M worldwide. It wasn't long before someone realized every haunted artifact in the Warrens' Museum-O-Horrors could serve as its own spin-off movie, an idea that - again, on paper - is not too shabby. Theoretically, you could do whatever you wanted with these spin-offs, just as long as they eventually reveal how one thing or another wound up under the Warrens' watchful gaze. That's a pretty broad canvas! An exciting one, even. You see how this could work.
But two Annabelle movies and one Conjuring sequel later (with one more of each on the way), we've now arrived at The Nun, and it doesn't really seem like the folks involved in this franchise feel inclined to do anything interesting with the universe they've created.
There is a pattern. Introduce the Evil Thing in a pre-credits sequence. Introduce a few key characters (and let 'em banter a bit, so the audience Gets To Know Them). Deliver said characters to the spooky location where the Evil Thing is getting up to hijinks. Plow through a couple red shirts to remind the audience that the Evil Thing means business, flip a few crosses upside down on the walls, maybe find a reason to go into a basement or an attic, and then have your key characters Conquer the Evil Thing.
Oh - and this is the most important part - throughout all of this, you gotta deliver as many fucking jump-scares as possible. Just tons of jump-scares. Loud ones, and so many of them that folks will be forced to straight-up shout in order to hear one another after they've left the theater. You want at least three in there before the title even hits the screen. Let up for a bit until the second act arrives, then start dropping 'em every few minutes. By the time the third act is heatin' up, you should have a jump-scare happening every 30 seconds. Every time a jump-scare isn't happening, the audience should be saying, "Where are the jump-scares? I am not scared."
Ah, but that's the trick, isn't it? Jump-scares aren't actually scary. They're startling.
One has to assume that the audiences flocking to see movies like Annabelle: Creation or (the non-Conjuring universe) Ouija 2 or The Nun are fans of the "Startling" sub-genre. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would respond to this brand of horror, but a glance at this franchise's box office returns tells me that plenty of other people do understand the attraction. I am happy whenever a horror movie is successful, of course, because I love the genre overall and wish to see it succeed, but I can't claim to be a fan of what these movies are. That sucks, because the set-up for the whole thing is so great, and I can imagine how it might work.
Anyway, this is all a very long and unnecessary way of saying: The Nun is another entry in the Startling sub-genre, and it does very few things you haven't seen before. There's a pre-credits sequence where some nuns run afoul of the titular Nun, then we meet a priest (Demian Bichir) and a novitiate nun (Taissa Farmiga) who are tasked with going to the abbey where the deaths occurred and figuring out what happened. The Nun makes things difficult for them, some people get offed, and then...well, you know where this is headed. You've seen one of these before.
Let's set aside the predictability of the plot and the soul-crushing number of jump-scares. Does The Nun have anything else to offer? Well, the performances aren't bad. Bichir's solid, as is Farmiga. The film features a few legitimately creepy moments that don't last nearly long enough, along with one interestingly-executed sequence involving a character being buried alive. The score rules on at least three occasions. A pair of bookends tie the film back to The Conjuring directly, and the one the film ends on contained a reveal I didn't see coming. That part was kind of fun.
But the Nun herself isn't much of a character, nor did I find her very scary (indeed, in silhouette the Nun's garments look something like a cartoon rendering of a Christmas tree, and once I noticed that it was more-or-less impossible to take her seriously). She basically looks like Marilyn Manson in a nun costume. She has bad teeth and ill-defined powers. She is very tall. I just saw this movie and that's really all I can tell you about her. This is a problem for a movie called The Nun, starring The Nun.
Look, if you enjoyed the Annabelle movies or are looking forward to (checks notes) The Crooked Man or maybe if you just love being startled, I'm guessing The Nun will be up your alley. You know what you like from your horror movies better than I do, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the experience more than I did. If you need me, I'll be over here waiting for this cinematic universe to throw out a real curveball, something that'll shake things up and make this entire endeavor seem interesting again.