The state of much horror today is marked by the control of producers over the vision of the artist. This is true in “The Nun”, the fourth title in The Conjuring series, though it doesn’t destroy the entertainment value of the film. I can forgive them; major horror in general is taking one of two directions–either it’s an arthouse snooze-fest, or a jump-scare romper. Arthouse scores well with mainstream critics and indie film circuits, while the rompers score much lower (generally).
“The Nun” is a total romper, packing in jump-scares as densely as possible. Not to say that they are all effective or necessary, but there they are. (“The Haunting of Hill House” contains one of the most effective jump-scares in recent history, so my own personal curve has steepened.) Many of the scares in the film fall flat because of CGI, but mostly it’s something more noble.
See, “The Nun”, I’d argue, could have fallen into a rare category, something like a Horror-Adventure. Flirting with this category was an 80’s hallmark. Had “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” ramped up the character of Large Marge, the horror, plus bizarre nature of Pee-Wee, would have combined to create Horror-Adventure. “Adventures in Babysitting” straddled this as well, along with “Big Trouble Little China”, “Total Recall”, “Gremlins” and “Edward Scissor Hands.”
With “The Nun” we could have seen a full immersion into Horror-Adventure, where the primary focus is on dreadful characters, claustrophobic atmospheres, and, of course, scares. What director Corin Hardy’s goal was, I’m not sure, but had he choked back the jump-scares, beefed up the atmosphere, and chose to focus on a dreadful adventure, like a scary Indiana Jones film, this would have been a bigger score for the franchise. The final credits, showing original artwork, revealed the true potential for developing that environment. All well.
That being said, t’was a pretty fun movie to watch, and, despite some ecclesial, organizational flaws (still unsure of the motivation for the Vatican to send a novitiate sister into the fray, but, hey, of all we know of the Vatican, right?) “The Nun” packed a punch for the Church. Cloistered nuns battling evil through Latin prayer before Mary and Christ? Yes please. Crusaders conquering and sanctifying a place of unimaginable evil in the name of Christendom? I’ll take some of that too.
What I’m saying is this: there is not a bit of spiritual weakness in this depiction of our Church, not from the priest, not from the nuns, not even from the secular character who gets somewhat forced into all of this. Not that the characters don’t have flaws, but as a team they represent the Church powerfully. Just like the entire The Conjuring series, I think “The Nun” could bring people to the Church, I really do.
It’s not a perfect movie, but it presents the Church correctly (as a powerful force against darkness), it presents witchcraft correctly (as the forces of darkness against which the Church must fight), and presents prayer correctly (as an effective and legitimate weapon against evil). Even the carving upon the door, behind which lies the demon’s portal onto Earth, betrays the pride of this creature: “Finit hic, Deus”, written like a dare, “God ends here”. Isn’t that a poignant statement for today?
Now, I hear objections already–the main sister is portrayed as having more power than the priest since she’s the only one who can stop the thing, ultimately; is this not post-modern thought? Priests are not always the best tool for the job, just look at Joan of Arc or my sister, Catherine of Siena. Besides, she subjects herself to her priest companion before entering into battle. I think the depiction is not problematic at all. Demon nun vs bride of Christ. Fitting and poetic.
To sum things ups, if you like horror, as I do, watch “The Nun”. It’s not the best at frights, but it is a pretty Catholic Horror-Adventure. Acting is good, character design is grand, and the scenes are quite spooky. More could have been done with the material, but the constraints of Hollywood jump-scares kept the movie from being truly effective. I still applaud The Conjuring franchise for its depiction of the Church, evil, and the power of prayer.
Run time: 96 minutes