Thursday, September 6, 2018

Bad Habit: THE NUN

There's not enough happening in the rather blandly written and directed The Nun to keep me from asking pretty basic questions punching holes in its premise. For instance, if the paranormal being needs to possess someone, why waste so much time opening and closing windows, and drifting down corridors, and turning on radios? They're the sort of questions that could only possibly be answered with the simple "because then there wouldn't be this movie." That's a satisfying enough answer when the movie is otherwise enjoyable, but this one just dithers and slithers through Catholic imagery and generic horror jumps. A spinoff of 2013's The Conjuring purporting to explain the origins of the demonic nun Vera Farmiga saw in the pretty good 2016 sequel, the movie picks up in the early 1950s. It's rural Romania where we set our scene, in a village dominated by a big scary castle that's been a convent since the Crusades. Turns out it's haunted, of course. The opening scene finds a nun hanging herself to avoid getting possessed by some hellish shadow being. Her body is found by a local delivery man (Jonas Bloquet) who falls backwards and gasps, "Oh my God!" That this is the exact moment where the screen cuts to black and blasts a gleaming white all-caps title card -- THE NUN -- proves it has some sense of humor. Later a priest (Demian Bichir) and nun-in-training (Taissa Farmiga, though her character seemingly has no relationship to the character her older sister plays in the other films) sent by the Vatican to investigate whether or not the convent remains holy ground will inform the man that they may need to find a relic with the blood of Christ. He replies: "Christ? Jesus Christ?" That's the one.

Too bad, then, that the film can't sustain straight-faced wryness in the face of all its pro-forma long pauses and blasts of sounds passing for scares, and the copious free-form CG visions cut together with bone-cracking Foley. The movie knows that there's a richness to Catholic iconography in a horror setting -- bleeding crucifixes, empty ambulatory habits, giant wooden crosses, click-clacking Rosary beads -- and mixes it generously with the dark-empty-corridors, the bleeding-from-the-mouth-ghoul-boy, and the foggy-forest-with-endless-shafts-of-light-piercing-every-crooked-tree. It has a small but terrific cast excellent at looking confused and scared, then steeling themselves with an inner spiritual light. But the images and characters are undone by a plot that's a tangle of nightmare logic, slippery and overcomplicated, at once deeply stupid and impenetrably dense. It bored me, and occasionally provided some visual interest, but I was entirely uninvolved in the goings-on and completely fear free as I regarded the predictable motions every scene makes. That gave me plenty of time to spend asking questions like, why have the nuns stayed tormented in the convent all these years if the ultimate solution was so simple? And, if the Church knew about the dark evil growing there, why allow it to fester for so long unaddressed? (Oh, wait. Maybe that one actually makes sense.) The whole thing just feels so much of a missed opportunity, a good premise and fine setting and capable cast left to tread water in overfamiliar plot mechanics. There's a good movie clawing to escape the mediocre one around it. 

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