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Never rises beyond the obvious

Taissa Farmiga in The Nun.

Taissa Farmiga in The Nun.

The Nun
3 stars
Director: Corin Hardy
Stars: Demián Bichir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet
Duration: 96 mins
Class: 15
KRS Releasing Ltd

There’s a meme that has been doing the rounds for ages that goes: “You can’t scare me – I was taught by Nuns”. Well if anyone survived being taught by this particular Nun,  then they must be rather scary themselves.

The Nun is the fifth in the Conjuring series of horror films, which began with the critically and commercially acclaimed The Conjuring in 2013 and its sequel, The Conjuring 2, three years later.

The stories are based on the files of renowned real-life paranormal investigators and authors Ed and Lorraine Warren (played in the films by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).

Spin-offs from the main story Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation focused on a superbly creepy doll of the same name first seen in The Conjuring. This week’s release follows the (fictional) origin story of the demonic Nun Valak, who first caused evil havoc in The Conjuring 2.

It’s a pity that the storyline is so weak

Two nuns hurry with urgency through the dark and dank corridors of the subterranean level of a remote Romanian castle. The older nun ventures through a door with the legend Finit Hic, Deo! (God Ends Here) carved on it. Inside, she is attacked by an unseen presence. Dragging her way back to the door, bloodied and on the verge of death, she appeals to the younger nun: “you know what to do”… prompting the latter to take her own life.

Demon hunter Fr Burke (Demián Bichir) is summoned by the Vatican and sent to Romania to investigate, accompanied by young novitiate Irene (Taissa Farmiga).

Once there, they seek out the young man Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who found the nun’s body, and the trio ventures to the castle to seek some answers. They are confronted by more questions as they discover the blood from the dead nun’s body – which was removed from the scene weeks ago – is still wet.

But that is nothing compared to the malevolent force that manifests itself with a horrific nun’s visage they encounter that needs to break out of the castle and spread its evil.

The film is bookended by scenes of the Warrens on lecture tours, discussing their sundry cases, although they do not appear anywhere else – thus forming the only link to the series as a whole.

I did expect a connection to be revealed between Lorraine and Irene, given the two Farmiga actors are sisters and strongly resemble each other. Yet, this did not materialise so, other than the appearance of Nun Valek mentioned above, there is little that truly connects the films.

That The Nun is based on fiction and not on any of the Warrens’ actual case files goes a long way in explaining its very thin story line compared to its Conjuring siblings.

Whether you believe the Warrens’ cases were authentic, or just a load of hokum and bunkum, the films were built on intricately weaved plots with richly drawn characters and genuine scares.

The Nun, however, has a meandering plot line which crucially never really explores what the demon at its centre really wants. We get some exposition about the knight who built the castle hundreds of years ago and how the demon got trapped there, but it’s all very thinly-sketched and, at times, incomprehensible.

 That said, it is dripping with atmosphere in its rural Romanian post-war setting and its looming gothic castle in ruins. with its dark, dank interior and overcast grey exterior, and upside-down crosses in its sinister graveyard.

There are a number of effective shockers – one character gets buried alive, and gaggles of nuns – alive, dead and in-between – pop in and out of the story while the titular Nun is indeed the stuff of very bad dreams. But the whole never rises beyond the obvious.

It’s a pity that the storyline is so weak, given that Bichir and Farmiga both give excellent performances and mine what they can out of the material. The contrast between the world-weary demon hunter who has seen much in his days and the much younger, intelligent, curious novice is strong. The chemistry between them leads to some intelligent exchanges and often light banter, making the scenes between them way more interesting than anything else that unfolds.

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