Opinion: ‘The Nun’ disappoints with cheap scares

Cameron Coyle

“The Nun,” the underwhelming fifth film in the “Conjuring” franchise, is another example of the law of diminishing returns on display in the horror genre.

Father Burke (played by Demian Bichir), a priest who does special assignments for the Vatican, is sent to investigate the apparent suicide of a nun at a Romanian church in the 1950s. He is accompanied by Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a soon-to-be nun, and escorted by a French-Canadian immigrant (Jonas Bloquet) who simply goes by the name “Frenchie.” 

At this point, the “Conjuring” franchise lineage looks more like a web than a straight line. The series has spawned an original, a sequel, a spin-off to the original, a prequel to the spin-off, and now “The Nun,” a spin-off to the sequel. Saying this is not an essential addition to the franchise would just be too kind.

The careful character development and patience in storytelling that separated the original two “Conjuring” films from many of its contemporaries in the genre is completely absent. Multiple moments in the film feel like an attempt to create a scene that would gain popularity outside of the theater and on social media rather than a genuine attempt to formulate a creative scare.

“The Nun” relies on jump scares far too often, and it doesn’t have to. Throughout the film, the camera lingers as music swells only for it to be followed by an enigmatic loud noise—usually scaring only audience members who have never seen a horror movie.

Not every jump scare is a failure, however, as some are used effectively in quiet scenes where the empty space on the screen is soon filled by a frightening image. These moments, accompanied by the sheer number of jump scares, keep the pop-ups as a whole from being a bore.

“The Nun” is obviously at its best when echoing “The Conjuring,” using creepy imagery—upside down crosses, dead bodies and things of this nature—to induce paranoia in the characters and build tension on screen. This is achieved multiple times, but it is never maintained, as another jump scare is likely around the corner.

As Frenchie walks home from the church in one scene, he is attacked by a paranormal nun who appears from above him, falls on him, mounts him and then flees the area when he is at his most vulnerable. Less than 20 minutes later in the film, Father Burke is attacked by a demon taking the form of a child he failed to save in an exorcism. The demon produces a snake from its mouth, causing Father Burke to face his biggest regret while also fighting for his life.

These two scenes are a prime example of the inconsistency in “The Nun.” Frenchie’s encounter is random and nonsensical, while Father Burke’s incident appears to have purpose—until there is no resolution to Burke’s story, exposing this as a ploy for scares rather than an element of the story.

“The Nun” does not utterly fail, but its cheap thrills and poor writing disappoint and further dilute the quality of what is currently the biggest horror franchise in the world. Only extreme fans of the series should seek out this film.

Grade: C-