Written by: Nguyen Le, CC2K Staff Writer
It’s a case of an inkling confirmed: Those non-principal monstrosities in the two Conjuring films, Annabelle, Valak and the Crooked Man, are more than just sideshows; each is a spinoff waiting to be made. So begins the rise of The Conjuring Universe, which, despite hauling in dough (to date, a billion internationally), has been a rather bumpy endeavor. Within it there’s something great (first Conjuring), something good (Annabelle: Creation), something below that (Conjuring 2) and something abysmal (Annabelle).
Where the latest installment, The Nun, lies is within hopping distance of the latter, and that sure is disappointing when the talents involved suggest we will have a serviceable time at least. “Pray for forgiveness,” the film’s tagline asks us. We shall do that, indeed, though with our wallets rather than the beast in front of us.
The Nun begins with two sisters of Romania’s Abbey of St. Carta being stalked by the pale, teethy and raging Valak who debuted in The Conjuring 2. They are seeking a relic that could save them out of its resting place. They fail: One gets pulled into the shadows, the other hangs herself from a great height. A delivery boy, the French-Canadian Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), discovers the signs of death the next morning.
It sounds dramatic, yet haphazard editing makes everything low-impact in nature; neither the oppressive atmosphere or the horrific details really embed their teeth onto the viewers’ skin, let alone nibble into it.
The Vatican then assigns Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate to shed light on the events. The investigation has gravity — his failure to deliver a boy from evil in the past and her lacking in vows open themselves up for the serpentine-loving defiler’s attacks — but little work is done to have us feel the pull. Don’t bother looking; it would be a miracle to find any when most of the effort leans toward defanging dread and releasing tension. With neither leg that holds a horror film up is present, the deeper The Nun proceeds to its plotted heart of evil the less it conducts itself as a genre entry. Consider this exchange, which no one believes deserve a “should this be here?” note:
“Holy sh*t…,” (French-Canadian!) Frenchie said.
“The holiest,” answered Father Burke.
They weren’t kidding when they said “God ends here.”
Oh, Gary Dauberman, why? Why are you trying your damnedest to not live up to the “darkest chapter” claim and, quality-wise, to not rise above the broken Annabelle? In his wicked wisdom, the flimsy characterization and logic-upsetting proceedings deems that the solo outing for James Wan’s spawn — Valak is his (last-minute) creation — should have humor in its makeup, and the levity woven in should draw outstanding attention. Not the mood, not the terror, not the bloodletting and not the soul-draining, but the ha-has only the most undemanding can appreciate.
And it comes often, in each subsequent appearance it grows more excruciating. Whereas the vision is to have us, after the screening, grip ourselves while in bed, the execution compels us to dream up the memes that will make a fire tweet. Here’s a freebie: There’s a moment where, upon realizing that collective invoking is the only solution, all the nuns walk toward the altar blasting Beyoncé’s Formation, Louis Armstrong’s When the Saints Go Marching In, or any song from Mamma Mia! (Dancing Queen?) is hyper-apropos.
OK, that last one is taken, so pick something else, y’all creative fiends. Try the titular song, maybe? The nuns couldn’t resist keeping the place from rocking the unholy vibe…
As the danger fades and ease heightens, one continually spots the unrealized potential that haunts every corner of the film — in Farmiga’s all-in acting (just like sister!), Bichir’s commitment, Jennifer Spence’s suitably eerie sets, Maxime Alexandre’s well-dimmed cinematography, Abel Korzienowski’s chthonic melodies and, most importantly, director Corin Hardy’s preference to scare practically (The Hallow is a gripping watch thanks to this) — and see that we are being punished. Forgive trespassers, the devout advises, though we should have none for The Nun — unless we love “is horror dead?” articles.
The third time is not the charm for this Conjuring Universe. Remember the darkness the promos tout? In the end, there’s more stock in believing it to be referencing the project’s great distance from the light of quality rather than high level of fear. Still, judging how it’s poised to do major collecting at the box-office, safe to assume that the devil has beaten us. Told you we are being punished.
Author: Nguyen Le, CC2K Staff Writer
I love film enough to pack up and fly across the Pacific to write about them. On a mission to add some Vietnamese, or Asian, presence in the film-writing world, first stop being Houston where I’m based. You bet I can make hella good ca phe sua da and equally so omelette. See my bylines at the The Cougar and Cooglife, University of Houston’s two publications, Houston Chronicle, Austin Chronicle, InSession Film and The Young Folks. Member of Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. Find me on Facebook (@nguyen.le.334) or Twitter (@nle318) — I’m all smiles at both places and so should you!