★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Lay. Off. The. Fog. Machine.
Oh, and another thing: not all priests are Irish. Some are, but not all of them. Just because a priest is in a horror film doesn’t necessarily make this is a prerequisite to his being Irish. It really doesn’t. For that matter, young girls that are recruited by the Vatican to root out super-evil-demon creatures should have a back-story. Just being a nice young novitiate who at some point in her life had “visions” doesn’t really a back-story make. There’s just got to be a reason that the Vatican felt compelled to search out this young novitiate? A sign from God? A vision? A visitation from Valek? Something? In fairness, at one point in the film, one of the nuns does a speedy little exposition dump. Plot. Plot. Plot. Plot. Valek. Boom. Speaking of Valek, the super-evil nun stuck in a satanic castle created by a super-evil Duke that was overrun by Crusades of 1191, Valek never speaks. Really, not a word. I mean Valek’s been kicking around for pretty much every Conjuring joint, and finally gets her day in the sun, but doesn’t utter a single word. Sure, there were a couple growls and a hiss or two, but no actual words. It’s not like Valek had to have all the best words. As we all know, it’s tough coming up with all the best words, but a couple catchphrases would have been pretty satisfying. Something like “…you want holy, I’ll give you holy” or “conjure this you potato-eating two-bit padre.” Just something. Speaking of speaking, the whole film is set in Romania, but no one speaks Romanian. No one has an accent. Everyone apparently has a complete grasp of English. The only person they meet is a French (Canadian?) guy, and he’s named…wait for it…Frenchie! True story. And, he speaks…English. Frenchie is, of course, the glue that holds the whole production together. He’s hunky. He has no need for French. He’s got a gun. He’s not ‘fraid of no Valek. He’s got a crush on the super-fine novitiate. What’s not to like? Well, for starters, the entire film is a massive exploration of pull-focus trickery and (mostly) the worst jump scares that you ever did see — but that didn’t scare you. The pull-focus allows the filmmaker to create an environment where everything, yes everything, could be Valek. You’re focused on one thing on the screen, but there’s a whole vast tapestry of stuff happening on screen that could be Valek. Robes, tapestries, paintings, clothes hanging everywhere, shadows, loaves of bread, piles of fog — everything is coming up Valek! Weirdly, Valek is really only in a handful of scenes. A little Valek here. A little Valek there. Not quite the all-powerful presence that you’d expect from an all-powerful super-evil nun stuck in a satanic castle created by a super-evil Duke. Nope, that Valek is selective about her appearances. Even in the face of true evil, the nuns try to keep up appearances, but they also seem to be stuck on the Lord’s prayer. The Bible is like, what, 1,200 pages? They can’t come up with anything other than the Lord’s prayer? Really, no creepy-sounding weirdo Latin phrases and chants? No. Nothing. Well, let’s be fair. A couple of the jump-scares do work. There’s also a clever bit featuring ringing bells in a cemetery FILLED TO THE BRIM WITH FOG that’s pretty cool. Beyond that, there’s very little subtlety to this film. There’s very little dramatic tension. Nothing builds. Nothing falls. Characters aren’t built, they’re just sort of neglected. The filmmakers do a ham-fisted job of cramming in a Conjuring intro/outro that serves as another peculiar information dump. Here’s hoping that Conjuring III doesn’t pick up with Frenchie’s exorcism and the anemic return of Valek. In the interest of full disclosure, this review is a little sloppy, chaotic, slipshod. I guess sloppy conjures sloppy.
The Nun is Rated [R] and is in wide release in the US at theaters near you.