Grade: B-
Entire family: No
2018, 96 min., Color
Horror
Warner Bros.
Rated R for terror, violence, and disturbing/bloody images
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: Dolby Atmos TrueHD
Bonus features: C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

The Nun ends right before The Conjuring begins, but you don’t have to have seen that film, The Conjuring 2, or the related Anabelle and Anabelle: Creation to understand what’s going on. This horror prequel is a stand-alone film set decades before the hauntings from the other films in the popular franchise.

Eighty percent of the scenes in The Nun are dark and/or dreary, and location filming in Romanian Transylvania castles and manors adds to the atmosphere, creating a look and feel that will remind horrorphiles of the old Hammer gothic horror flicks from the late ‘50s and 1960’s. In those B movies, atmosphere was everything, and the mood was so thick you could cut it with a scream. Light on plot and characterization, those old films were also dependent upon the occasional jump-scare—a trick that Nun director Corin Hardy relies on a bit too much. It’s like walking through a Jaycees Haunted House and having something pop out at you every 10 minutes. But that’s what appeals to young horror fans today, and it’s also why my teenage daughter gave this one a higher grade than I did. She gave it a B; I gave it a C+, with B- the compromise grade.

In truth, I found the behind-the-scenes featurette every bit as interesting as the film itself. Seeing the actors set up shop at night in graveyards and walking through narrow corridors of castles where there had been documented cases of suffering and death—places in which locals say you can still feel the ghosts of those who perished—is pretty darned cool. Would I want to be one of those actors? No way—especially in a film about demonic possession. But maybe it helped that the director got a Roman Catholic priest to bless the sets before they began.

Central to the plot is an ancient relic that contains the literal blood of Christ. When two nuns at Saint Cartha’s monastery enter an isolated tunnel to get the relic, they’re attacked by a demon that has somehow come up through a portal to the catacombs below. After killing the first nun, the demon approaches the second, who ties a rope around her neck and jumps out the window. From here, there’s a vibe that harkens back to the old medieval mystery Name of the Rose . . . with jump scares.

Word reaches the Vatican, and the Pope sends Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to travel there with Sister Irene, a nun in training, chosen to accompany him because she has been seeing visions that could be related to what happened. In Romania, the man who discovered the nun’s body, Frenchie, gives them a tour and brings them up to speed. From there, it’s all about trying to discover just who or what that demonic creature might be, and how it can be stopped, while a flashforward at the end of the film provides the connection to The Conjuring.

Any tension besides those jump scares comes from not knowing much about the demon or what comes next in a relatively straightforward plot, so to say any more is to say too much. As Dr. Evil would say, “It’s all pret-ty standard stuff,” but effective enough. Taissa Farmiga is particularly engaging as Sister Irene, and she pairs well with Jonas Bloquet, who plays Frenchie.

Language: I only caught one minor swearword

Sex: Nothing here

Violence: Bloody and rotting bodies of nuns, nuns thrown across the room, a snake biting a man in the eye, ghosts that threaten harm, and a featured demon that causes all sorts of panic and screaming

Adult situations: In a film like this, the whole thing is an adult situation, which is why it’s only recommended for families with older teens

Takeaway: In a way, it’s too bad that Farmiga and Bloquet appeared in a prequel that fits so neatly into the other films, because it would be fun to see more of them together.

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