2018, no matter what a certain Vogue article may have claimed, was a brilliant year for horror movies. From the slow building tension of Ari Aster's debut movie Hereditary to the sensory scares of John Krasinski's A Quiet Place, we were thankfully blessed with a few modern classics of the genre last year. Sadly, the newest entry into The Conjuring universe The Nun really doesn't hold a candle to any of these, and in my mind goes down as one of the worst horrors of last year.
Intended as a prequel to the franchise's most iconic monster thus far, The Nun fails both on the level of a satisfying origin story for fans of the other films, and as a standalone movie for outsiders interested in this series. After the suicide of a Romanian nun, Taissa Farmiga's nun-in-training Sister Irene is - for some mysterious reason - sent to find out what has happened, alongside the dull Father Burke. They are soon joined by Frenchie, a character who is basically summarised as 'flirty', and the three set out to the convent to unearth the truth, and eventually to seal away the dangerous Valak demon - the titular Nun.
By far the worst issue that plagues this film like a Biblical wrath is its nonexistent build up of tension. From the outset, there are jumpscares every five minutes or so, and at first, some of them manage to land fairly successfully, if undeniably predictably. However, these start to wear thin very quickly, and by the time the story has really gotten going, you're basically immune to whatever stock scream and accompanying gross image is being hurled your way - I imagine the fact that you won't be watching this Blu-ray in a theatre doesn't help much either. This issue is magnified a hundred times over by the time the climax hits, or rather flops, as by this point the scares are nothing more than an annoyance, and the main antagonist is stripped of all threat.
Of course, this film also suffers from being a prequel in general. As someone who hasn't seen the other Conjuring films, I must say that I wasn't hugely invested in the monster to begin with, but from posters and trailers I have appreciated its design. Bonnie Aarons, who you may also know from the infamous diner scene in Mulholland Drive, is wonderfully intimidating as the Nun and delivers the best performance in the film by far. But as much as I enjoyed the brief moments with her character, I found myself not really caring what went on with the others - after all, we know that she'll win in the end anyway, or The Conjuring 2 couldn't exist.
Though the lead performers are all trying their best and give fairly competent performances, its fair to say that the protagonists lack a much-needed level of depth and intrigue. Taissa Farmiga's Irene is probably the best of them as a modern-ish new Nun with a touch of warmth to her Godliness, but she still more often than not becomes nothing more than a screaming part of the scenery, and while you certainly aren't against her, you don't care much about her either. The male characters were equally as bland, with Frenchie clearly intended to be the 'charismatic' one down to his lame one-liners and frequent smirk, and poor Father Burke barely being given a character to speak of at all.
To spoil the Nun's origin somewhat, which is revealed around halfway into the movie, we are told that it emerged from a portal to Hell created by a previous inhabitant of the Nunnery, which was sealed using a drop of Christ's blood and blown open by the bomb blasts of World War II. While this could have served as an interesting metaphor for an institutional evil, the film hardly explores it, and instead creates more questions than it answers. It also means that the vast majority of the film ends up being in pursuit of a deus ex machina, and while this can be pulled off well, here it serves very little purpose other than to add another obvious helping of 'Jesus good Devil bad'.
As for the special features, there is a fair amount to explore if you're a fan of this movie (for whatever strange reason). Though both the DVD and Blu-ray include the making-of short A New Horror Icon - quite the bold claim, might I add - the Blu-ray also boasts an explanation of the current Conjuring timeline, a look at the filming location, and over ten minutes of deleted scenes. For fans of the franchise, the Blu-ray is certainly tempting.
So despite some respectable performances and effectively spooky Gothic production design, The Nun has very little to offer in terms of contemporary horror.