Review: The Nun, Cheap Scares, Shocking Moments, Missed Opportunity

Image courtesy Warner Bros.

As we learned in 2016’s The Conjuring 2, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) has been haunted by what she later discovers is a demon named Valak, who takes the shape of a hideous nun (played to full creepiness by Bonnie Aarons) and seems intent on not just terrifying her but actually murdering her in horrible ways. With The Nun, we take a look at what we assume is one of the early instances of Valak taking on the nun guise in this tale set in 1950s Romania at a cloistered abbey where a young nun takes her own life under mysterious circumstances.

In an attempt to unravel the circumstances behind her death and determine if the abbey can even be considered holy ground, the Vatican assigns Father Burke (Demian Bichir), who is usually tapped to look into potential miracles, and young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga, real-life sister to Vera) to investigate. (The fact that this film and the wildly different but, similarly set up, The Apparition, are coming out on the same week in Chicago seems like a crazy coincidence.)

Even Father Burke wonders why Sister Irence, on the verge of taking her final vows, has been assigned to this case, and there is a very good reason that is one of many mysteries at the heart of The Nun. The film is directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow), from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman (who wrote the two Annabelle films, also part of the Conjuring universe; co-wrote It; and came up with the story for The Nun with James Wan, director of both Conjuring movies). The two head to Romania where they meet up with Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the man who discovered the dead nun’s strung-up body, believed to be a suicide, and immediately creepy things start to happen.

Unfortunately for those impressed so much at The Conjuring films’ ability to build up a tremendous amount of tension before delivering any jump scares, The Nun is more about cheap scares and shocking moments. There’s no denying that the filmmakers have a helluva nasty, eerie figure at the center of their story, so the temptation is to exploit that for all its worth, but the price to be paid here is logic. This movie doesn’t make a lick of sense. Is there just one evil force? Is there an army of faceless nuns doing Valak’s bidding or are they all in Sister Irene’s mind (I don’t think so, since everyone seems to see them). A lot of this movie feels like cheating, at best, or, at worse, not caring if the audience understands what it's watching, as long as the film gets a few more things jumping out of unexpected corners of a pitch-black room.

At some point, it’s discovered that the abbey has been allowed to continue functioning because it secretly houses a vial of the blood of Jesus, which so happens to be the only thing that can force Valak back into his shadowy realm. Why would a demon live in the one place on earth where its greatest weakness also happens to be stored? He must be an adrenaline junkie or something. I'm not denying the film has genuinely scary moments; the production design (when you can see it) is beautiful and loaded with murky, Gothic atmosphere; and the performances from Bichir and Farmiga are quite good. It’s the story that fails to hook us by being vague and nonsensical.

The Nun makes a clumsy attempt in its inevitable epilogue to connect its story of Valak with that of the Warrens’ life as paranormal experts and how they ended up pissing it off so much. It’s a pointless and desperate endeavor, and it tarnishes the great Conjuring movies a little bit around the edges. The Nun feels more like a missed opportunity than a complete disaster, but in the end, it’s tough to tell the difference. Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.