The Nun ★½


One of the unlikelier developments in horror cinema during the 2010s has been the expansion of director James Wan’s musty ghost story 'The Conjuring' (2013) into a full-fledged cinematic universe, complete with sequels, prequels, and spinoffs. Although Wan’s original feature boasts a couple of genuinely eerie set pieces, its critical and box-office success remain perplexing: Beyond its clumsy screenplay and derivative funhouse tricks, the film just isn’t that *scary*. The feature’s distasteful apologism for real-life demonologists and pseudo-religious fraudsters Lorraine and Ed Warren is another concern, but 'The Conjuring'’s worst sin is fumbling the genre fundamentals. Since 2013, however, the underwhelming first film has spawned a more frightening sequel ('The Conjuring 2' [2016]), a wretched spinoff about a demonic doll ('Annabelle' [2014]), and an unexpectedly gratifying prequel to the spinoff ('Annabelle: Creation' [2017]).

The latest chapter in this dubious franchise, 'The Nun', concerns a demonic entity that has been lurking around the periphery of the series, infesting the psychic visions of paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). Taking the form of an inhuman religious sister in a severe black-and-white habit, the unholy being Valak (Bonnie Aarons) taunted Lorraine in 'The Conjuring 2' with premonitions of her husband’s grisly death. In that film, Valak left an intensely unsettling impression, looming out of the shadows only rarely to flash its powder-white countenance, monstrous yellow eyes, and gaping maw of needle-like fangs. With 'The Nun', director Corin Hardy – working from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who also has a story credit alongside Wan – places this parochial-school devil front-and-center, and in the process banishes much of its shivery mystique. If nothing else, the new film is an illustration that well-received ancillary characters are sometimes best left on the sidelines, where their enigmatic presence can serve as an enduring source of horror...

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