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Feature Article

The Nun Review: Thoughts And Prayers With Teeth

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Say your prayers, or you will literally die.

The Nun hits theaters today. Check out our review below if you want to know whether it's worth seeing--unless you're too scared, of course. Then check out the scariest nuns in horror movie history, how The Nun fits into the connected Conjuring universe, the full history behind the demonic nun known as Valak, and whether it has an after-credits scene--plus the ending explained.

There's a single rule that could save the protagonists of horror movies a whole lot of trouble: If a demon, ghost, or otherwise evil/otherworldly antagonist is very clearly trying to lure you somewhere, run the other direction. The characters in The Nun are painfully unaware of that general rule, which makes for some admittedly great scares in the latest entry in the Conjuring universe. It also helps make The Nun just a little bit goofy--chances are, the fifth time the brave but hapless Father Burke gets lured down a dark hallway or into a spooky graveyard, it might elicit a laugh rather than the dreadful trepidation that was likely intended.

But The Nun embraces all horror tropes, not just that one. Its tributes and homages to past horror movies are countless. There's the hyper masculine alpha priest, Father Burke, played by Demián Bichir, and his companion, the virginal, white-clad nun-in-training Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who travel together at the Vatican's behest to investigate a suicide at a remote Romanian convent. There are exorcisms and jump scares, crosses flipping upside-down, moving shadows and demons in mirrors, pentagram-shaped gashes slashed by invisible claws into pious, white flesh.

It's not all tropes. The Nun's rules are wishy-washy--within the confines of this movie and with the larger Conjuring universe. But that gives it freedom to be whatever it wants from scene to scene, as well. Entire stretches turn out to be hallucinations, delusions, or dreams; sometimes the demon can affect the physical world, and other times it's all psychological. Sister Irene is anything but helpless, while Jonas Bloquet's character Frenchie--part action hero and part comic relief--gets to deliver one of the goofiest and best one-liners in recent memory. It all blends together to make a funny, super terrifying movie that works despite its inconsistencies.

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The setting is a large part of that. There's something deeply unsettling about The Nun's Cârța Monastery, a dark, sprawling heap of cobblestones, statues, and tombs where the candles are always fitfully flickering, but no one's ever home. The place's geography is never fully established, which adds to the disorientation as Farther Burke, Irene, and Frenchie run around chasing/fleeing from various demonic apparitions.

The Nun herself--AKA the demon Valak, as established in previous Conjuring movies--is also quite scary. She's a constant presence, whether she's flitting by in the background or baring her splintery teeth in full, feral terror. She especially loves to appear directly behind people or at the opposite ends of long, shadow hallways. That the movie's laborious exposition dumps and backstory explanations don't detract from these scares is a testament to the fundamental effectiveness of the Nun as a movie monster.

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Some of the funnier dialogue can seem out of place, although the movie's funnier moments often serve as welcome reprieve from the tension. There are also some weird tacked on clips from other Conjuring movies at the beginning and end--they ensure you don't need to be caught up on the series to enjoy The Nun, but they also blow the creature's reveal in the first 10 seconds, ruining any build-up the movie might have made toward it. And these awkwardly inserted clips make explicit a connection to the first Conjuring movie that fans would easily have figured out anyway, which suggests a mistrust in the audience's ability to put two and two together.

The Nun takes a weird turn in its third act as our heroes follow various clues toward a holy relic that will supposedly save them, when an encroaching Indiana Jones vibe starts to clash with what the rest of the movie tries to do. There's also a terribly clunky reveal in the vein of "swing away, Merrill" in the M. Night Shyamalan movie Signs. This final act is predicated on something Father Burke says: "There's a time for prayer and a time for action. This is a time for action," which I can't help but read as a denunciation of the "thoughts and prayers" front of America's current culture war.

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In the end, The Nun's most gripping scenes relate to that as well--as far as Sister Irene is able to discover, the Cârța Monastery's nuns are trapped in a constant vigil, forced to pray in continuous, overlapping shifts to keep the demon at bay. As Valak grows stronger, their prayers grow less effective, until Irene finds herself in very real danger with no means of defense against evil. That's when the action really begins.

Although The Nun can be inconsistent, silly, and predictable, it's also terrifying and atmospheric, with a great monster, phenomenal setting, and likable characters you'll never stop rooting for. It doesn't quite hit the highs of The Conjuring 1 and 2, but it's definitely a fun, scary ride that horror fans will enjoy.

The GoodThe Bad
Atmospheric settingAwkward tacked-on clips from other movies
The Nun is terrifyingTonally inconsistent
Good mix of tropes and unique scares
Likable characters
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mrougeau

Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Senior Entertainment Editor. He loves Game of Thrones and dogs.
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