The Nun 

The latest installment in The Conjuring series is the pumpkin spice latte of horror movies

It seems like pumpkin spice season comes earlier every year, doesn't it? I know everyone's eager to get to October, or just ready for the heat to end. But that doesn't mean we have to skip straight to hanging the fake cobwebs after Labor Day.

Horror movies of questionable quality are my pumpkin spice latte, but I'm not going to be in the mood for a Hammer binge until at least October 1st, and certainly not before the Cooper-Young Festival. But, keeping with the late-stage capitalist trend of constantly reinforced yet bloodless revelry, The Nun has appeared in theaters the first week of September and made $131 million dollars.

click to enlarge Taissa Farmiga get creepy in The Nun, which is actually a film about multiple nuns.
  • Taissa Farmiga get creepy in The Nun, which is actually a film about multiple nuns.

On the one hand, The Nun is a charmingly old-fashioned crappy horror movie. It's the fifth film in a series that began with The Conjuring in 2013. These movies have been loosely based on the work of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose accounts of hauntings have been loosely based on truth since the 1970s. Instead of going for a relatable suburban setting like The Amityville Horror (a story the Warrens have been able to sell an improbable number of times), The Nun moves the action to 1952 Romania. It starts with a bang, as two nuns in a Transylvanian castle run frightened through a darkened hallway that ends in a door marked with the grammatically challenged threat "God ends here." One of them uses an ornate key to open the door and retrieve a holy relic, which she says is the only thing that will save them. Predictably, her errand to the basement of godlessness proves fatal, and her partner runs up to her third floor bedroom and flings herself out the window with a noose around her neck.

The gruesome suicide of a nun attracts the attention of the Vatican. Why would a bride of Christ commit the ultimate unpardonable sin? And what gives with this creepy abbey where they've been praying constantly for the last 500 years? But the red hats in Rome are apparently too busy covering up child sexual abuse to go see for themselves, so they send in Father Burke (Demián Bichir), who is apparently some kind of kick ass combat priest. For no discernible reason, he is assigned Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) as a partner. Sister Irene is not quite yet a nun, and she's never been to Transylvania, but she is a teacher at an orphanage in London who had some visions of Mary once, so the old priests figure, what the hell?

click to enlarge Demián Bichir plays a priest in The Nun.
  • Demián Bichir plays a priest in The Nun.

The pair travel to Romania where they meet their guide Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), who leads them to the abbey with his questionable accent. Everything about the setting is an old school Universal horror cliche. There are the villagers who are scared to silence about the mysterious goings on in the castle, and the horses who won't enter the perpetually fogged forest, so you have to go in on foot.

Plot-wise, The Nun is a lukewarm rehashing of John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. The nuns of the abbey, some of whom may be ghosts themselves, must keep a malevelant spirit named Valak the Defiler trapped in their basement. There's definitely a feeling of paint by numbers from director Corin Hardy and writer Gary Dauberman. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, as long as the execution is up to snuff.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with The Nun, a picture that never met a cheap jump scare it didn't cop. Neither Bichir nor Bloquet look like they have any idea what's going on at any given time, and it's obvious that English is not a first language for either one of them.

I will give Father Burke some credit. The first time I was buried alive by invisible demons, I'd be hopping the train back to Rome, but he keeps going like nothing ever happened. Whether that's a sign of bravery or lack of ability on the actor's part, I'll leave as an exercise to the viewer. Even if you're ready to kick off horror season a few weeks early, there are lots of opportunities to do better than this tedious nun-sense.

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