The decline and fall of franchises is a phenomenon that is all too common, and yet still heartbreaking in its own way. For every James Bond or Star Wars, there are countless other series that started strong, usually with a film that was a one-off, the success of which led to studio bean-counters to push creativity aside in favor of the quick buck to be made with a known commodity. In the process, ravaging a promising premise (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) and grinding out imitations that became paler and paler reflections of their genesis.
And so it is with THE NUN, the latest from The Conjuring franchise, and one that is stunningly oblivious to what made the original so good. The most tantalizing thing about it is the casting of Taissa Farmiga, the younger sister of Conjuring veteran Vera Farmiga. There is so little to keep one occupied as THE NUN meanders across the screen that pondering how Taissa’s postulant character from 1952 is related to Vera’s ghostbusting one some twenty years later becomes more compelling that the story at hand. The bookends of Vera and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and her husband and fellow paranormal investigator, Ed Warren, sledgehammer this into the Conjuring universe, but beyond the demon nun (Bonnie Aarons) in question who was so popular in THE CONJURING 2, it could be any sub-par horror story.
We are in Romania, not Transylvania, but close enough to make no difference for the spooky doings. Father Burke (Demian Bichir giving it his all) has been called in by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a comely young nun at an abbey nestled in a remote part of that ci-mentioned country. And because it’s more cinematic, he’s been assigned a partner. That would be Farmiga the younger, a postulant who believe in dinosaurs, but is not so sure about the visions she’s been having since she was a child. Neither of them know why she has been ordered to accompany Father Burke, a mystery reflected in that lack of explanation about why she appears in civilian clothes when she first meets Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), an expatriate French-Canadian who found the dead nun hanging from a gothic window. There is an attempt to have Burke and Frenchie engage is the sort of charming repartee used to provide comic relief in flicks like this, but those attempts only serve to underscore the way everything in this film is just plain wrong.
It is a tepid tale, told with a lethargic air and a stultifying staleness. Let me put it this way. The days when a crucifix mysteriously spinning itself into an upside-down position are long past. Alas, that is the most innovative scare tactic at work as our protagonists spend a would-be harrowing couple of nights fighting evil, even as we fight boredom watching them. The rest is one standard jump-and-scream trope after another playing out over a muddled narrative with dash of Poe, and a whiff of THE EXORCIST (and not a good one). It also throws in a holy relic that makes The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch look like the Shroud of Turin.
To judge by the loud snoring exploding a few seats away from me, I was not the only one who found this lugubrious excrescence less than compelling.
The nun-phobic will find much to haunt their nightmares here. The rest of us, having been subjected to the sheer pointlessness of it all, will be haunted only by the sure and certain knowledge than this won’t be the last attempt to cash in on a franchise past its prime.