R and that's probably for the best. I know that a lot of horror movies today that market themselves to teenagers are PG-13. While the movie is R, at least from the MPAA's perspective, primarily for scares, it is super blasphemous. There's no ducking around that attitude. The Conjuring franchise wears the mantle of being pretty religiously accurate, but this movie just blows up sacred imagery in the name of being scary. It totally deserves its R rating, without a doubt.
DIRECTOR: Corin Hardy
One of the more recent developments of my life is that my movie reviewing has reached a new level. I've finally gotten to that level where I'm actually given assignments to review. Part of this means that I get to see advance showings of movies so I actually have time to craft a review. That's super rad and I completely dig it. But it also means that I have to be on top of my game when it comes to being prepared for these movies. I just reviewed The Curse of La Llorona for Catholic News Agency. As part of that, I got to interview Raymond Cruz from Breaking Bad for the film because he's a pretty big deal in the movie. You can hear that podcast here. This is all great, but I felt like I should watch the last entry in The Conjuring universe before going to see the most recent entry. I know that I should have labelled that as "spoiler", but you can figure that out from the trailer. But I never wanted to watch The Nun. Honestly, from the trailer, I could tell that they were playing pretty fast and loose with theology and the sacred. Why would I want to watch it?
...let alone analyze it on Easter Monday? This wasn't the plan. This is just the way it worked out. For the most part, I analyze movies in the order I watch them. Unless there's a rush, like with the Academy Awards, I want to keep them in order so I don't just cherry pick which ones I want to talk about. For the most part, I kind of enjoy The Conjuring franchise, especially the core films. They aren't amazing, but they are very entertaining, especially if you love jump scares. I was really hesitant about the first Annabelle movie, but even that ended up being pretty good. It's only once the second Annabelle movie came out that I noticed a drop in quality. Annabelle: Creation is rough. I mean, thank goodness I own it now. (The things I do for the podcast.) But it was such a drop off in quality that I kind of severed ties with The Conjuring movies. If someone asked me to watch them, as was the case of The Curse of La Llorona, I would. I would even watch them if they somehow just showed up at my house. But in terms of spending good money to see them, not so much. There's something in Annabelle: Creation that carried over to The Nun that I absolutely loathed. For as much pride as they take about doing research to make the movies authentically scary, I definitely got the vibe that they shortcutted some really basic stuff. In Annabelle: Creation, they had sisters perform the transubstantiation rite over the bread to make it Holy Eucharist. This one isn't as bad as that. This one is simply an attack on the Church that is pretty unfounded. Listen, I know that there may be Catholics who are anti-evolution. I went to a pretty conservative school and I know that misinformation gets around. But the Church is actually pretty cool with the whole evolution bit. Why is there a weird attack on the church in the beginning of this movie. But the big beef I have with this movie is that it is in no way respectful to the Church in any way, shape or form. Okay, you can steep the movie in all this Church-y things. But honestly, where is actual faith in all of this? There's a part that is repeated through the film to scare audiences. It says something the lines of "God ends here". While that sounds rad from a secular perspective, it is the exact opposite of what we should believe in terms of faith. How can these characters claim to have any faith in God when the movie shrouds itself in a world where God is absent? I watch Supernatural, which kind of plays around with the same ideas. But with Supernatural, they admit to changing theology. I don't love that they change theology, but at least it plays out as an alternate reality. The Nun is almost more dangerous because it claims to be so accurate. I love how I'm really teetering on the line that "people are sheep." But a movie like The Nun is almost playing with gasoline. And the thing is, it is playing with gasoline for something REALLY dumb. The thing about religious horror is that it actually has a little bit of weight to it. These movies exist with the concept that the devil is real. That's fine. Theologically, the devil is real. I get that. But the devil works when people lose faith in God. (That's a broad stroke and I totally acknowledge that it is a way deeper argument than that.) These movies don't show the morally challenged and how they are ripped apart. There is a scene where the protagonist of the film has to maintain perpetual adoration to keep the evil away. Prayer is not a spell. It shouldn't be treated as a spell. Also, she is doing a great job at praying and the demon still manages to scar her back with a pentagram. How is that showing that faith in the Lord does anything? If anything, it does the complete opposite. It shows how stupid prayer is. The most effective attack on the demon is a gun that one of the characters brings with him. He's not faithful, but he's the one who does the most damage.
The thing also is...they managed to make the titular nun not scary. In The Conjuring 2, that nun is terrifying. Say what you will about the religious significance of making the bad guy a nun, the icon that has grown out of that image is impressive. By the way, if you really want to be disappointed by what the people behind the scenes think of their characters, watch what the actress who plays the nun thinks about religion. But I'm already spiraling out. The movie...isn't scary. I watched it on a treadmill, which isn't the best way to watch a scary movie. But the point of watching movies while exercising is that they are supposed to take my mind off of the timer running down. In this case, I kept getting bored and looking down at how much time was left on my run. I'm not saying that jump scares aren't effective. I'm actually coming around on that argument. I know that they're cheap and easy, but they are extremely effective normally. It's just that they should be used sparingly. As blasphemous as the film is, it is also very VERY lazy. We've seen the imagery in The Nun before. The Nun actually plays like a greatest hits of theological horror. Crosses turn upside down. Religious objects are defaced. There's fire and water and all of the core elements used in scary fashion. There's one concept that was actually pretty clever, but I don't think it is executed that well. They use that old timey fear that people had about being buried alive and the bell that is associated with it. But it is a fly with an elephant gun. Okay, I want to talk about how this cool idea completely fails the film. Admittedly, it's something I haven't seen a ton of, the being-buried-alive-with-a-bell bit. But there's this creature that is either A) trying to scare them into weakening their faith, so she can have power over them or B) trying to kill them. Okay, that's fine. If it's trying to kill them, why not just do it? The movie establishes that it is trying to escape the monastery, so the killing is out. It needs a host to get away. So why go with this nuclear scare? It shows that both characters maintain their faith throughout and it can still hurt them. The Nun is way too powerful. It doesn't matter where their faith is because she can still do damage regardless of how faithful a person is. So it gives Sister Irene the chance to save Fr. Burke? Why? That's a big question. Why is the Nun doing what it is doing? It has a goal. It wants to inhabit humans, but it either kills them or allows them to kill themselves. (I'm shorthanding.) Sister Irene was not meant to find Fr. Burke. It does this bell trick to make it hard for her to find him. It is only through her patience and resourcefulness that she finds him. This kind of leads to the even weirder theology of the nuns all being dead for perpetual adoration. They are meant to be scary too, I guess? Is God putting the ghosts of the nuns in there because they probably should tell Sister Irene that it is her responsibility now that they are all dead. It's all over the place.
And this stems from the goal of having the audience scared, but not follow the rules of the story. The movie gives us a motivation for all of the hauntings going on in this convent. It actually kinda sorta has a decent idea behind it. The reason for the convent is actually B- smart. I don't hate it. But it also doesn't follow its own rules. The Nun almost comes across as incompetent. There's no way that she could have known about Frenchie and his interaction with the team. The Nun is completely basing her actions on the luck of these people. If the Nun had done nothing and waited for Frenchie to show up, it would have been way easier to achieve her goal. Maybe the damned aren't exactly brilliant strategists. Maybe this is a problem with the ghost story in general. Do ghosts want people to be scared? Usually, a ghost story involves little reasoning behind actions. Ghosts tend to be unsettled spirits. They are mostly insane. But the Nun actually has a very concrete plan and constantly underminds it. The best villains are the ones who work against their very nature. She is in a convent. She's disguised as a nun. Why not just come across as normal? If it is about faith, which I've established doesn't exactly float here, why not needle the outsiders into small slights so she can inhabit their bodies. Also, SPOILER: Is Frenchie the Nun now, because that's an odd choice? So much of this movie is resting on a very poorly planned conceit. It's kind of the same problem that the Alien movies have. They look rad, but there's not much to build upon sometimes. The Nun looks cool. So, if you were to make a Nun movie, you'd probably want to go to the religious well. But this is an example of writing the character in reverse. Instead of having a smart story, it's just throwing all of this religious mumbo jumbo at the screen. I don't know why the jump scares don't work. I think the more we see of that character, the less scary it gets. It's a little bit like the Borg in that fashion. Use the Nun sparingly and steep her in mystery, you actually have kind of a good character. But the more we know about her, the less impressive she really gets.
I borderline hated this movie. In terms of construction, it doesn't break THAT many rules. It is a lazy movie. It blows my mind that Taissa Farmiga is now in The Conjuring franchise. She's a great actress, but I can't be the only one who is bummed out that she's almost exclusively doing scary things. The theology and research is both great and lazy at the same time. It says all of the words without really getting the meaning of those words. I ended up enjoying The Curse of La Llorona, despite it being theologically terrible. But The Nun is just an un-fun experience that really picks at religion in a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Films about religion need to be better than this. They seem to be made by secular artists who think it is cool to blow up images of the Holy Family. Think about how much different this film would have been if you had a filmmaker who honestly got what having faith meant. If I was assigned The Nun, I wouldn't blow up images of the Virgin Mary. I would have shown this demon slowly creeping into the doubts of these characters. That would have been terrifying.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.