‘The Nun’ (a.k.a. ‘Bad Habit’) is a handsome twinkle of a horror movie that’s never developed into a full-bodied anything. It’s a movie that dangles on the precipice of actually being half-decent for quite some time without ever making the effort to, you know, actually be good. Its mid-century Romanian setting is certainly atmospheric, a nod to the far-flung haunts of golden-age horror; it contains some decent acting, both Taissa Farmiga and Demián Bichir are solid enough to headline, if only they were privy to some superior written material; and some of the visual flourishes and cinematography suggest a horror movie well above the average pay-grade. And yet, it’s all pretty much for nothing as The Nun never gels into something of any discernible substance.
Lacking anything that resembles compelling characters with actual arcs, The Nun fails that critical first test of the movies: investing the audience in the plight of its heroes. The horror prequel’s eponymous villain, the nun, lacks any memorable elements to define her (it’s?) devilish rein. As an evil entity, the nun is really just…there. The real rap to the knuckles is that, for a movie that’s been calling itself the “darkest” installment in The Conjuring series (not even close), it’s almost never even slightly scary. As in, nowhere even close to as spooky as the few sparing minutes of The Conjuring 2 featuring the same character. Yes, there’s one or two semi-effective jump scares but there’s no feeling of dread pervading the room, no slinking eeriness seeping into our subconscious. My heart rate was thoroughly rested. Taisa Farmiga (real-life sister to The Conjuring’s Lorraine Warren and a dead ringer for a younger version of her) plays Sister Irene, a novitiate with a touch of a rebellious side, preparing to take her vows. After a nun takes her life at a cloistered (and definitely haunted AF) abbey, Irene is recruited by “miracle hunter” Father Burke (Bichir), her past brushes with visions a key component of why she was selected. The unlikely pair journey to Romania, joined by a young man known as Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who was witness to the hanged nun, to investigate the suicide. They discover a dark presence haunts these unholy grounds. Things spiral.
Like a penguin in a habit, The Nun is a paint-by-numbers coloring book with only black and white. There are entire shades of a story missing – character development is basically non-existent as is any kind of convincing or well-thought-through lore for the titular villain. And for a movie that clocks in at barely 90 minutes before credits, The Nun still feels both long in places and skimping on critical plot points at other. You can’t shake the feeling that this is 45-minutes of material beefed up into a feature film and churned out into theaters. This means we’re treated to countless minutes spent wandering through darkened hallways by lantern light. Shadows dancing pirouettes on the textured wall. Some nefarious villainy lurking either aft, starboard or port – undoubtedly wound up like a Jack in the Box and ready to pop out and scare only the jumpiest in the audience.
What’s perhaps most strange and obnoxious about The Nun is exactly what it gets right and what it gets wrong. At times, the gothic horror relishes in potential. The nuns-going-nutty setting is absolutely aces for a good scare, Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography can be both grandly epic and dauntingly claustrophobic and none of the actors are skimping on getting down and dirty with the material but the writing from Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation) and the directing from Corin Hardy (The Hallow) is just flat as a board run down by a steamroller. There’s no edge to the cut of this nun’s gib, no defying of expectation, no glimmer of originality. It’s just retread gothic horror scrubbed of interesting characters and running razor-thin on compelling lore. Worse still, the film primes us for a major helping of inner-connective universe building that just never comes.
Credit to Abel Korzeniowski’s score, a foreboding little thing, plump with screeching strings, low-toned timpani rolls and howling choral nightmarishness. His sonic work is very likely the most frightening element of the entire enterprise, outpacing the scares on screen by a healthy margin, the mood of the scene work and tone of the music never quite in sync though. Ultimately, The Nun is a throwaway spin-off that adds practically nothing to The Conjuring’s horror universe or its growing network of stories. It may work for completists desperate for a new chapter in the ongoing Warren timeline but anyone else need not apply. This is studio horror submitting to lazy impulses of self-sameness, despite its well-dressed locale and A-list acting staff. A perfect display of squandered potential.
CONCLUSION: Frustratingly flabby and flabbergastingly frightless, ‘The Nun’ boasts an eerie setting, strong performers, some well-timed comedic beats and various strokes of great potential only to flatline into a bunch of horror movie trope nothingness. In sum, this Bad Habit submits over and over again to horror movie bad habits.