2018 has been a mixed bag for horror, to say the least. On the one hand it’s given us some of the best movies of the year so far – one that I still can’t stop thinking about – and on the other, well, you have Slender Man. Now along comes The Conjuring spin-off The Nun, and after reports of trailers being banned from YouTube for being too scary, could we have a real chiller on our hands?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.
The Catholic Church has done some very horrific things in its long and storied past. Having gone centuries with no substantial opposition – even now the Church has only just started to relinquish its grasp on certain countries’ politics – it’s a real-world boogeyman and one that can (and has) inspired a lot of great movies. The Nun has no interest in touching on these subjects, however, instead opting for cheap jump-tricks and completely wasting what could have been a profoundly creepy antagonist.
In horror, and especially monster movies, the most successful seem to carry the mantra of “less is more”. In this context, a movie can wring more terror out of the briefest of glimpses of a monster than by showing it outright. The idea being that as the movie progresses, we see more of the fearsome antagonist until the climax of the movie: when the monster is finally fully unveiled. With that in mind, without mentioning anything yet of how The Nun presents its eponymous horror, even a lightly seasoned horror-goer can have some idea of how the movie might play out. I’ve laid out what I was expecting in a three-part structure below:
- The first viewing could be from behind, most likely of the nun’s habit as a character unwittingly walks past her hiding place.
- Next, the film might have the nun following one or both of our lead characters, possibly hidden in amongst a congregation of other Sisters if going for a “she’s in here with us” style fear.
- Finally, after all the requisite jump-scares and exposition for what she/it is, we the audience finally get to behold the scary nun in all her horrifying glory…before being cast to the darkness whence it came or something.
The above was my genuine expectation before going in: a pretty basic story, sure, but one that could be effective given a competent director.
What do we get here instead?
Literally from scene one, she’s there. No build-up, no pretence, just straight out of the gate: here’s our spooky Sister. From there, the nun just isn’t scary and the movie seems to be aware of this too. Rather than try to establish some subtle menace and sense of foreboding when literally walking around an abandoned Eastern European abbey, The Nun instead goes “nah this is too much effort” and puts its cards on the table before the first act is even done.
The Nun feels like a film that nobody was bothered about making, despite some game efforts from Demian Bechir and Taissa Farmiga to help the movie limp across the finish line. Bechir’s character has a sub-plot about an exorcism gone wrong earlier in his career, that feels like it’s either part of a draft from an entirely different film or a lazy attempt to further expand the Conjuring Cinematic Universe.
That indifference is the most unforgivable of sins when making any kind of movie, let alone horror – a genre that has no shortage of engaging and interesting movies and moviemakers far more deserving of The Nun‘s marketing budget. When a packed out cinema audience can be heard muttering amongst themselves more than any jumping or screaming going on, that’s when a horror movie has failed.
I have no doubt that The Nun will make bank at the box office, and that a sequel/prequel/spin-off is already being drafted in a writer’s room in a Warner Bros. office somewhere. It’s a continuation of the trend of big studios substituting loud noises for actual horror, and conditioning audiences to believe that a scary face jumping out of a dark room is the scariest thing ever. The sooner this trend dies and is buried in an unmarked grave on unconsecrated land, the better.