THE NUN, US, 2018. Starring Demian Bechir, Taissa Farmiga, Jonas Bloquet, Bonnie Aarons, Vera Ffarmiga, Patrick Wilson. Directed by Corin Hardy. 96 minutes. Rated MA (Strong horror themes and violence),
There is an exorcism sequence in this film, but it is not an exorcism film in the vein of The Exorcist. Rather, it is a general kind of horror film which uses some of the conventions of exorcisms and other religious themes.
For audiences who enjoyed the two Conjuring films, they will remember that in the second film there was the image of a sinister nun, an embodiment of evil. There was some discussion about the background, possibly Romania. The screenwriters then decided that they would fill out this prequel story. (And the two Conjuring films were directed by James Wan, who helped establish the Saw horror series – cowriting this time because he was working, more upmarket, in the DC film of Aquaman.)
So, the setting is an enormous castle in the Romanian forests, imposing exteriors, very sinister interiors, crypts, basements, corridors, a door which states “God ends here”, the chapel. It is 1952 and there are memories of bombs dropping on the Castle (suggesting some diabolic activity but not pursuing this theme much further).
The film opens with a young nun and the Superior venturing beyond that sinister door and, the nun wanting to avoid possession by evil, hanging herself. This raises issues in the Vatican, a group of cardinals and priests meeting and authorising their representative, Father Anthony Burke (Demian Bechir) to investigate. He has a lead with a young novice in London and decides that she should accompany him to Romania. She is played by Taidda Farmiga, the younger sister of Vera Farmiga who is glimpsed, along with Patrick Wilson, reprising their roles as the famous Warrens, the experts in exorcisms in Amityville and London’s Enfield.
There is also a young French-Canadian, Frenchy (Jonas Bloquet who discovered the dead nun and helps the visitors with their inquiries. It should be pointed out that the screenwriters were not as accurate in their depiction of things Catholic as they might have been – one could contribute a list of “Goofs” to the IMDb entry!
Most of the film is in the dark, during the night, in the eerie castle, out in the cemetery – with some early discussion about being buried alive and bells being provided to alert passers-by followed by some moments of tension when Father Burke finds himself buried alive.
The abbess is seen sitting in a high chair in the basement, her face covered with a black veil. Various nuns appear at times, especially in the chapel where, it is said, there is a tradition of perpetual adoration with nuns reciting the rosary. But, then they appear and disappear, the sinister nun looking frightening, the young novice trying to cope.
Needless to say, it builds up to a huge climax, threats to all those concerned – though the novice decides that facing this crisis she should make her first profession and Father Burke officiates (from an alleged book of prayer but the title of the Bible is very clear on the book). The expected mayhem then ensues.
This is what the filmmakers intended to do, make a frightening horror film, borrowing Catholic images – and that is what they have done.
Roadshow Released September 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.