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I am a big fan of the Conjuring universe and its dramatization of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren's real-life cases. I have enjoyed each film thus far (yes, even the black sheep Annabelle), but came into The Nun with appropriate expectations. I knew coming down from the high of Annabelle: Creation that this side-story follow-up would likely not be as dramatically engrossing. I also knew the titular, demonic abomination here was a late-game addition to Conjuring 2, so The Nun is a well-meaning cash-in no matter how you cut it. That said, director Corin Hardy's thriller is nicely acted, gorgeously shot and occasionally frightening, but lacks the dramatic heft of series anchor films. Still, this 96-minute spin-off is a better film than most wide-release horror movies by a mile, and remains a passable minor player in the Conjuring universe.
After a short recall of the Nun's work in Conjuring 2, the film moves to 1952 Romania, where Roman Catholic nuns are attacked by a demonic force at their monastery. A final remaining nun, Sister Victoria (Charlotte Hope), takes her own life to avoid having her spirit possessed by the entity, which appears as a nun. A local villager, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), finds the body, and soon is contacted by Father Burke (Demian Bichir), whom the Vatican tasks to investigate the death. Father Burke travels with Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a nun in training (novitiate), and joins Frenchie at the abbey, where they discover a group of nuns observing a period of silence as they mourn Sister Victoria. The demonic entity soon makes a reappearance, and the sisters begin round-the-clock vigil as Burke, Irene and Frenchie attempt to learn the origin of the spirit and stop it from escaping into the world beyond the abbey.
The Nun is economical in narrative, which is not a bad thing. Gary Dauberman, who wrote both Annabelle films, returns to pen the screenplay here, and wisely avoids an unnecessarily convoluted backstory for the Nun character. That said, I wish the origin story had a been a bit more unique, but it is passable as it unwinds in this movie. Hardy and Dauberman work together to craft a spooky environment, which they largely do. The relatively small $22-million budget is evident, however, in the lack of establishing shots and grand sets at the abbey, and The Nun unspools in a limited environment. The movie mixes atmosphere and dread with jump scares and late game, extended interactions with the big bad, who is expertly portrayed by actress Bonnie Aarons in heavy make-up and prosthetics. Though it feels slight, The Nun did keep my attention throughout.
A criticism I have is the uneven storytelling. The first half of The Nun promises a more deliberate dread, with character development and world building. Things get a little sloppy before the climax, and it feels like the filmmakers either chose not to shoot several scenes or abandoned them in editing to keep the pacing tight. These gaps are nowhere near The Snowman bad, but I have seen enough movies to know there were some trims during the production process. The characters, aside from the Nun, are not as memorable here as in previous entries, which means the film is more about the antagonist than its heroes. Casting Taissa Farmiga might lead you to believe Irene somehow becomes her real-life sister Vera's character, Lorraine Warren, but the movie is not that meta. The climax offers some haunting visuals and intimate contact with the entity, and The Nun leaves viewers with expectations of the next Conjuring film. As a Friday night thriller and minor player in its franchise, The Nun works.
The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image supports the dark, moody atmosphere of the film. Cinematographer Maxime Alexandre returns to the franchise to shoot The Nun in shadow and with natural light, and this crystal-clear image offers gorgeously saturated colors and impressive shadow detail in the abbey's dimly lit halls. Sharpness and clarity are excellent throughout, the image offers abundant fine-object detail and texture. Wide shots are clear and deep, and the movie looks great in motion. I noticed only very minor aliasing, and compression artifacts were not a problem despite the relatively low bitrate.
The disc offers a Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack. Element separation is excellent, and dialogue, effects and the soundtrack are all layered appropriately. There are abundant horror environmental effects, like bumps, creaks and footsteps, to surround viewers during the film, and action-oriented effects, like the wrath of an angry demon, are aggressive and bring the subwoofer to life. Quieter, dialogue-driven moments are no less impressive than these chase scenes, and I had no issues with clarity or range. A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also included, as are 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in French, Spanish, Portuguese and English. English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are offered.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an HD digital copy. The discs are packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover that replicates the simple, striking key artwork. Extras are limited: A New Horror Icon (5:18/HD) discusses the character and her place in the series; Gruesome Planet (6:18/HD) offers good on-set footage; The Conjuring Chronology (3:50/HD) recaps the previous films; and the extras conclude with some Deleted Scenes (12:18/HD).
No, The Nun is not the best film in the Conjuring franchise, as it lacks the emotional heft and thoughtful narrative of series anchors. It does, however, provide a reasonably satisfying spin-off story about the late-game antagonist from Conjuring 2. There is enough atmosphere and thrills here that series fans will want to add it to their shelves. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.