In ‘The Nun,’ what evil lurks beneath a habit

  • Demian Bichir in a scene from “The Nun.” Warner Bros. Pictures via AP

  • This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Taissa Farmiga in a scene from "The Nun." (Justin Lubin/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) Justin Lubin

  • This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Ingrid Bisu in a scene from "The Nun." (Justin Lubin/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP) Martin Maguire

Associated Press
Published: 9/7/2018 1:45:50 PM

As frightening as the The Nun is, it doesn’t hold a candle to today’s real-life horrors in the Catholic Church.

But while a new generation of filmmakers has breathed new life into horror by embedding it with frightful and salient social commentary, the The Conjuring franchise – of which The Nun is a spinoff and the fifth installment – isn’t about anything so real. It’s about exhuming classic horror archetypes – creaky old houses and creepy old dolls – with (mostly) old-school effects. And what’s more old school than a mean ol’ nun?

Set in 1952, The Nun is the origin story of Valak (Bonnie Aarons), a demonic nun who first turned up in Conjuring 2, as the pursuit of Vera Farmiga’s paranormal expert. This time, our protagonist is Sister Irene (played by Vera’s younger sister Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate who, just before her vows, is dispatched by the Vatican, along with Father Burke (Demian Bichir), an expert in unexplained phenomena (or as he says, “miracle hunting”), to a remote Romanian abbey where a young nun has just hung herself.

The decaying, overgrown abbey and its adjoining covenant are suitably eerie. The place, handsomely crafted by production designer Jennifer Spence, has the feel of a horror-movie set, complete with a foggy cemetery, and the action that follows has the almost comforting pattern of surprises and scares that’s to be expected. Entering the gothic world of The Nun, built so sturdily on horror movie clichés, is to slide into a darkly fantastical realm that’s practically cozy it’s so familiar.

Crypts will turn into traps, apparitions will flicker in the mirrors and ancient Christian dogma will be used for all its sinister power. Certainly, anyone who goes anywhere at any time clutching a lantern will run into trouble.

But what distinguishes The Nun is its silky, sumptuous shadows. Directed by British filmmaker Corin Hardy (The Hallows) and shot by Maxime Alexander (who was also cinematographer on the Conjuring spinoff Annabelle: Creation, The Nun shrouds itself so much in darkness that it at times verges on becoming a nightmarish abstraction. You almost lose sense of what exactly is going on, as Sister Irene falls into a labyrinthine abyss.

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