Greedy Guts month allows the staff of Nightmare on Film Street to celebrate the things they love that don’t necessarily fit into monthly themes, but it also allows us to sing the praises of films that we believe deserve more love. We know we won’t convince everybody to look past a movie’s flaws with these impassioned defenses, but our hope is the testimony delivered gives you perspective to see a maligned film in new light. Today, I come to do just that with a look at what I feel is one of most important and enjoyable films in Warners Brothers seven (and soon to be eight) film Conjuring Universe series, 2018’s The Nun from director Corin Hardy and writers Gary Dauberman and James Wan.
Part of the reason The Nun is so important to the larger Conjuring Universe is that it sheds some light on the back story of the titular demonic entity first glimpsed in 2016’s The Conjuring 2. It does so by flashing back to 1952 and sending Father Burke (Demian Bircher), a Catholic priest who investigates miracles; Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate nun who sometimes has psychic visions; and their guide, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), to a centuries-old Abbey in remote Romania. They’re there to investigate the suicide of one of the ancient structure’s nuns. Another reason it’s important is the same reason I find it so highly enjoyable; it does something different.
“The Nun tells the same type of demonic haunting horror as the other films in The Conjuring series, but it does so via the lens and tropes of the gothic horror sub-genre.”
That’s because The Nun tells the same type of demonic haunting horror as the other films in The Conjuring series, but it does so via the lens and tropes of the gothic horror sub-genre. All the classic gothic horror elements are there; lavish and decaying castles, fog, phantasms, and even a nearby village that is both a place to discuss and be infected by the evil afoot in the nearby Abbey. In a way, The Nun is almost a throwback and love letter the eerie horror films released by England’s Hammer Film Productions from the 1950’s-1970s.
Director Corin Hardy is British so I’m guessing Hammer Horror films were a beloved part of his childhood. His affection for them is clear from the way he directed and staged The Nun. The haunted ruins of St. Cartha’s Abbey are used for maximum atmosphere. They’re full of shadows, barely visible specters, and narrow hallways full of ominous crosses and signs. And the way cinematographer Maxime Alexandre filmed and brought the monastery to life was amazing. His use of light and color, especially reds and blues, added the film’s eerie feel.
There’s also a sense of operatic heavy metal style grandeur to The Nun. Some of that comes from Hardy and Alexandre’s shots and staging. The cold opening of the film where the candles in the abbey go out, a cross turns upside down and bursts into flames, and the Nun reveals itself feels like it’s lifted from a heavy metal video, and as Metalhead I mean that a compliment.
The film’s story also has a sweeping, larger than life feel to it as well. I’m not going to say too much for fear of spoilers, but the plot of The Nun elevates The Conjuring Universe by adding a real sense of history and stakes to the franchise. In this film you learn how a real-world historical era, and one of the defining events of the 20th century lead to the emergence of the evil entity plaguing St. Cartha’s. Those revelations not only add to the feel of The Nun they also reinvigorate the other Conjuring films as well. That’s because you see how the investigations of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) aren’t just quests to save individual souls. They’re battles in an ancient war.
The Nun also has a siege movie element that I really love. When Irene explores St. Cartha’s she learns the Abbey is in a state of perpetual adoration where nuns vigilantly pray in a chapel in round the clock shifts. There’s an especially great scene where she’s even drafted into the perpetual adoration to pray with several other nuns. When that happens, the demon Valak attacks. So in a metaphorical sense Irene and the nuns are soldiers armed with their faith trying to hold the line against a tide of evil. That siege feel also extends to the way Valak tries to wear down the individual characters by playing on their past fears and failures.
The siege feel, the gothic horrors, and the individual jump scares of The Nun are all elevated by Abel Korzeniowski’s phenomenal score. His compositions expertly use chanting and choirs to deliver a palpable sense of dread. And in some scenes, those chantings become outright demonic growls like on his creepy, cool theme for the demonic Valak.
“In order for the Conjuring universe to truly thrive it needs more movies like The Nun.”
The decidedly different, operatic, gothic horror feel of The Nun might not have been what viewers were expecting from a Conjuring film and it could be why it’s not as well-loved as the others in the franchise. Like I said earlier though, the fact that it is different from the other films makes it important. Shared universes are still a relatively new thing in cinema, and filmmakers seeking to build them can learn a lot by looking at what Marvel Studios did with their blockbuster series of interconnected films. Part of the reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so successful is it featured a variety of different film genres. For instance Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy story, Ant-Man was a heist film, and Guardians of the Galaxy was sci-fi action.
In order for the Conjuring universe to truly thrive it needs more movies like The Nun. We need to see the familiar demonic conflict expressed via the various sub-genres of horror. They could easily do a Slasher film featuring a demonically possessed killer. Or what about a killer creature style feature with a possessed animal? How about a body horror tale from the perspective of someone being transformed into a demon? The possibilities are endless and exciting!