[Screen It]


(2018) (Demian Bichir, Taissa Farmiga) (R)

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Horror: A seasoned priest, a nun-in-training and a local man must contend with supernatural occurrences in a foreboding abbey where they try to learn the reason why another nun has recently hung herself.
It's 1952 and a nun has seemingly committed suicide at an abbey deep in Romania. The Vatican, however, is concerned there's something more sinister going on there and thus send Father Burke (DEMIAN BICHIR) to investigate, informing him that he must bring along young Sister Irene (TAISSA FARMIGA) -- who's yet to take her final vows -- with him. Upon arriving there, they meet up with a French-Canadian man known as Frenchie (JONAS BLOQUET) who originally found the nun's body and informs the outsiders of how the locals view what's happening at the abbey as nothing short of pure evil.

Undeterred, the trio sets out for the former castle and begins poking around, with the first troubling matter being that the dead nun's body isn't how Frenchie left it in the ice house where he usually makes his deliveries. They also spot a handful of nuns, but only speak to a fully cloaked older woman who informs them they can't talk to any of those women until the following day. Frenchie leaves and has a harrowing experience out in the woods that night, while Sister Irene -- who's been having confusing visions -- and Father Burke -- who's still haunted by the death of a boy on whom he tried to perform an exorcism in the past -- also have supernatural run-ins.

Hoping to figure out why the nun hung herself, the seasoned priest and green novitiate must contend with such repeated occurrences, all while searching for the root cause of all the evil that lurks about inside the abbey.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When it comes to screenwriting, there are no hard and fast rules on where a film of a particular genre can be set. So, you can have a romantic comedy take place on Mars, an action pic happening around a spelling bee or a sci-fi flick occurring in a kindergarten class. In short, the sky (and then some) is the limit.

The same holds true for horror films. But, and with a few exceptions, those that are seemingly most effective in inducing thrills, chills, goosebumps and hairs standing at attention on the backs of necks are those that are set in places viewers are most familiar with.

That's because by using such a setting (usually in a home), those watching can suddenly imagine the same happening to them, both while viewing the film as it unfolds and later when they find themselves in a similar place. And that's when the weird noises, suspicious shadows in dimly lit recesses and more completely unnerve and frighten people.

So, if you're going to do a "back-story" sort of film about a demonic nun that's already been seen in a few entries in "The Conjuring" movie universe, where should that take place in regard to the above? Well, a monastery, convent or abbey would make the most sense from a logistical standpoint as that's where they're most commonly found. Yet, most laypeople aren't that familiar with such places. Thus, the question that arises is whether you keep the action, so to speak, in such a place or mainly only use that "home base" as a place for things to go bump in the middle of the night based on what happens elsewhere.

Unfortunately, scribe Gary Dauberman -- working from a story he concocted with producer James Wan (who helmed the first two "Conjuring" movies) -- and director Corin Hardy have opted to have nearly their entire film set in a former Romanian castle turned 1950s era abbey. You know, the sort of place with which most of us are intimately familiar.

Yes, one could still make that creepy as all get out (see "Pan's Labyrinth" for an example), but what we get here is mostly empty and definitely recycled horror elements that might have a stylish veneer, but otherwise are only good for a few jump scene moments designed to startle viewers.

The film begins with two nuns nervously making their way down a dimly lit, subterranean hallway toward a large wooden door on which the words "God ends here" are carved. Despite that warning, one goes inside and apparently encounters something bad (we briefly see her return, bloodied, before being yanked back into the darkness). The other goes to her room in the abbey and hangs herself out the window.

A local man (Jonas Bloquet) then finds the grotesque (and bird-pecked) remains, and later returns there with a priest (Demian Bichir) handpicked by the Vatican to investigate the matters and who's been told to bring along a young nun-in-training (Taissa Farmiga) to help. They go inside, encounter a variety of people and things designed to be creepy, and the story plays out over the course of nearly 100 minutes.

I'll admit some of it's effective, including a scene revolving around the old tactic of making sure you didn't bury a non-dead person by accident (by making a string, attached to a bell above ground, available in the casket for some -- literally -- last second, life-saving pulling).

But even that isn't done as effectively as it could have been, and unless repeated views of an angry demonic nun give you the shivers, you're gonna likely find yourself growing increasingly impatient with the use of cheap scares rather than truly unsettling and frightening material.

While that nun was effectively -- and, more importantly, only sporadically -- used in the earlier "Conjuring" flicks, extended appearances here, along with all of the intended frights, proves that old adage that there's no place like home. At least for making truly scary movies. "The Nun" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 5, 2018 / Posted September 7, 2018

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