CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND NUN REFERENCES
Creepy nuns, old convents lit only by candles, figures lurking in the darkness, graveyards, demons, darkness, faces looming out of the darkness, catacombs, mildly blasphemous imagery, dry ice, nods to bonkers Italian gore classics, nods to vintage British gothic, creepy demonic nuns hovering in the darkness in old convent corridors: in horror movies, these are a few of my favourite things. Happily the latest entry in the Conjuring/Annabelle franchise (the one that isn't Insidious) boasts all of these things and much more besides; but it's a shame that the end result isn't much more than just another perfectly enjoyable but functional shocker that lays its atmosphere on very thick, both visually and musically.
The Nun might refer to the young novitiate Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), assigned to accompany the Church's in-house Mulder, Father Burke (Demian Bichir) to investigate the suicide of a nun at an unfeasibly remote convent in the Romanian hills in 1952. Or it might refer to the spectral, unnamed nun possessed by a particularly nasty demon named Valak after wartime bombing runs cracked the Satanic portal which bound it; Valak has supposedly been kept in check by the nun's perpetual prayer ever since. But right from their arrival Irene and Burke, along with their French-Canadian guide, are confronted with spooky visions, scary dreams, creepy voices, weird nuns and full-on screaming horror...
Sure, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Taissa Farmiga's sibling resemblance to Vera Farmiga seems to suggest Sister Irene eventually grows up to become Lorraine Warren from the Conjuring films, especially as The Nun opens with a clip from The Conjuring 2, but this doesn't appear to be expanded upon, and there's a rare instance of the handy-plot-point-via-crossword-clue device. But the mood and atmosphere is agreeably Hammerish, with its creaky old castle and graveyard full of wafts of dry ice: with a slight rewrite you could easily imagine Peter Cushing in the Demian Bichir role, and the film even features a local tavern that's straight out of the old Dracula pictures and is only lacking Michael Ripper. Strange then that the premature burial sequence is less out of the old Corman/Poe cycle and more from Lucio Fulci's thoroughly bonkers City Of The Living Dead.
The Boo! moments obviously work because they're the easiest and simplest ways of making you jump, and some of the creepy atmosphere is helped by Abel Korzeniowski's offputting score of dissonant orchestra and low, growling throaty vocals, as dark as the unnecessarily murky setting (seriously, a bit more light here and there would not have gone amiss). But most importantly the horror doesn't stay with you: it's not nearly as scary as it should be and just a few days later it's already fading. The film is fun enough while it's running, but it doesn't linger much in the mind the way Insidious did, and for all the horrible demon faces the nun herself isn't as persuasively unsettling as the Annabelle doll. I enjoyed it to a degree but it's overall a disappointing and disposable addition to the series. Interesting to note that it doesn't end with a post-credits teaser for the next episode.