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‘The Nun’: A horror movie with a surprisingly pro-Catholic message

NUN
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The Church is the only thing standing between the world and the supernatural forces that want to corrupt and destroy it.

Catholic fans of The Conjuring movie franchise will have much to rejoice over in the latest installment of the ongoing series. If it does nothing else, The Nun solidifies once and for all that The Conjuring universe is one governed by Catholic beliefs and principles. On the other hand, general horror fans, Catholic or otherwise, might not be as enthusiastic as, sadly, The Nun falls a tad short in the scares department.

As viewers are likely to recall, the titular nun was one of the forms the demon Valak chose to appear as in The Conjuring 2, doing so to challenge the faith of the heavily fictionalized versions of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Nun takes us back to 1952 to show us exactly why Valak has taken such a liking to this particular guise. Hint: he’s a demon, so if you already guessed it is to mock and agitate the faithful, you win.

The movie begins in a Romanian castle-turned-monastery where a young sister ends her own life rather than allow the demon confined in its dungeons to enter her body and escape into the wider world. To ensure that the monastery has not been desecrated by this act, thus endangering its super-secret purpose for being located in the castle, the Vatican sends spiritual troubleshooter Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to assess the situation.

Accompanying the good father (who must be a Jesuit because he wears a tie when he travels) is Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a postulant whom the Vatican feels may be of use due to her tendency to have visions. The pair are joined in their journey by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the only person in the nearby village who dares go near the monastery. And even he doesn’t like to stay there too long, as he makes abundantly clear again and again.

What follows after the trio arrives at the monastery gates is fairly boilerplate horror fodder. There are half-glimpsed figures around every corner, a few scattered jump scares, and the occasional appearance of the title character, who remains an effectively creepy addition to the monster canon. Unfortunately, the scary bits never quite gel the way they should for some reason, so there are few actual frights to be had.

Even so, the film is not a total loss. The actors are solid and make the most of what they are given to work with. The movie itself is visually appealing, mercifully foregoing the bleached out look of so many modern horror films and going with a natural palette instead. With its gothic setting and choice of camera angles, The Nun mostly resembles one of the old Hammer Horrors of the 60s, though without those films’ copious shots of heaving bosoms. We are talking about a movie centered around a group of cloistered nuns, after all.

Speaking of which, it is almost astounding the level of respect paid to Catholicism in the film. Outside of one small comment near the beginning regarding the Vatican’s tendency to keep secrets (nudge nudge, wink wink), The Nun plays religion straight. The priest has problems from his past, but never wavers in faith. The young postulant is sincere, dedicated, and (gasp) not tempted by Frenchie’s attentions at all. As for the Church itself, she’s the good guy, probably the only thing standing between the world and the supernatural forces that want to corrupt and destroy it.

Oh, and what is the main weapon of defense used most in the movie? You might want to sit down for this: it’s prayer. There’s more praying going on in The Nun than in the last 10 or so faith-based films I’ve sat through combined. In fact, if they pay attention, there’s a good chance everyone in the audience will be able to recite at least part of the Hail Mary in Latin by the time the credits roll. That’s how much praying there is. And better yet, it works. Sure, there has to be a loophole at the end allowing Valak to show up for his part in The Conjuring 2, but for the most part the movie’s philosophy is that if you want to beat back the evil that is trying to destroy the faithful, prayer is the first line of defense. You can break out the big guns like relics when necessary, but always start with prayer.

If for nothing else, that makes it quite an interesting moment for The Nun to be seeing release. The film might not be scary enough for horror fanatics, but for the faithful who are having a rough go of it with all the bad news lately, the underlying message couldn’t be timelier.

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