REVIEW: Habit Forming – The Nun (2018)

Corbin Hardy’s The Nun begins with a recap of where we’ve seen The Nun (aka the demon Valak) before, most notably in Ed Warren’s (Patrick Wilson) painting in The Conjuring 2 (2016) firmly entrenching the film as another spin off in The Conjuring universe or Waniverse. In the footsteps of the franchise’s other spin offs, Annabelle (2014) and Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun is the newest entry based on the totally real (but not really) case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Back when The Conjuring 2 came out the Nun figure caused quite a stir as its striking and eerie appearance felt right at home in the James Wan Rogues Gallery of Ghastly Ghouls but the Nun also felt slightly out of place. For a film series so indebted to the power of the Christian faith you’d think more would be made of a demonic Nun stalking the Warrens at every turn, but alas it remained a looming figure with little MO except kill the Warrens because of their innate goodness. After the film came out, Valak was a fan favourite and i09 spoke with the series director James Wan about the figure and he illuminated some of the … inconsistencies:

I had a strong outlook on the whole movie, but the one thing I wasn’t quite sure of [was the design of the demon character]. I felt like I was still discovering it. And believe it or not, I always knew that I was going to do additional photography. So I was saving it because I was hoping I’d discover what that thing would look like as I was putting the movie together in post-production.

The Nun takes place bit over two decades before the events of The Conjuring 2 and sees a young would-be-except-she-hasn’t-taken-her-final-vows nun Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) accompany a priest with a past Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to a remote monastery in Romania to investigate the suicide of a nun at the behest of the Vatican. Along the way they enlist a local, Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who discovered the Sister’s body. Once they enter the monastery all is not what it seems as Irene and Burke are tormented by visions and terrorized by the titular Nun.

Let’s just get this out of the way; (ahem) NUN of it makes sense. From the complete lack of sense of space and time in the monastery to the clunky dialogue which is only text with absolutely no subtext, there is no understanding of what the evil wants only that it is EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL and that EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL is spreading. Due to this lack of understanding the film can’t seem to establish any stakes because it can’t decide what the cause and effect of this EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVIL is. Any film which deals with elements outside of our known world (i.e the supernatural, science-fiction, Nicolas Cage etc) has to establish rules to create an internal logic an audience can follow, for instance: mysterious video + seven days later = you die. The Nun can’t settle down long enough to tell a coherent narrative because it is so intent on culling storylines from other films – Sister Irene seems to be plucked from the Maria Nunnery found in Sound of Music (1965) while Father Burke is determined to show the audience that the filmmakers have seen The Exorcist (1973).

The thing about The Nun is – it’s a drag. Outside of a couple absurdly stupid beats it’s a paint-by-numbers film that serves the most basic assumptions of what horror fans want. The capitalistic cruelness of the film stems from the fact that it will almost certainly make its money back and more at the box office and more half-hearted, warmed over jump scares will be trotted out for the sake of turning more profit from this fictional Warrens universe that began with The Conjuring. It’s notable how empty and unrefined The Nun feels since Hardy’s previous directorial effort The Hallow (2015) was a nimble, odd-ball curiosity if not totally successful. The Nun feels like it was made by a committee who didn’t even bother to show up for the first meeting.

I’d say we deserve more from this film but from the way the figure/character of the Nun was shoehorned into The Conjuring 2, it fits. The Nun was an afterthought as a character and its film companion falls prey to the same trappings.

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Episode 64. Tour de Farce: Young Frankenstein (1974) and What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Horror can be horrifying, but it can also be hilarious. Whether it’s mad science or vampires living together, the comedy in these films heightens the absurd as well as our notions of “typical” behavior. At its best, comedy and horror function as a subversion of our day to day lives and expectations enlightening us to the strange elements that we’ve accepted as “normal.”

REQUIRED READING

Young Frankenstein. Dir. Mel Brooks, 1974.
What We Do in the Shadows. Dir  Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, 2014.

EXTRA CREDIT

Class of 2018 t-shirts. Limited edition Faculty of Horror t-shirts are available until September from Twisted Ts through the end of September! Order yours today.

Salem Horror Fest. We’ll be back October 12-14! Get your tickets now.

The Sunday Conversation: Mel Brooks on his ‘Young Frankenstein’ musical Brooks on the inception of Young Frankenstein and its afterlife.

What We Do In The Shadows Interview: Taika Waititi And Jemaine Clement An interview with the filmmakers about their process and reception of the film.

Faculty of Horror subreddit. Keep the conversation going on our subreddit page.

LISTEN

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Episode 63. Play Dead: Funny Games (1997)

What constitutes a film? What constitutes a podcast episode description? Andrea and Alex ask these questions (okay, maybe not that last one) and more in this month’s episode. By plundering the depths of filmic conventions, audience expectations and interpersonal contracts, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games asks the hard questions for which there are many answers.

REQUIRED READING

Funny Games. Dir. Michael Haneke, 1997.

EXTRA CREDIT

Class of 2018 t-shirts. Limited edition Faculty of Horror t-shirts are available until September from Twisted Ts through the end of September! Order yours today.

Salem Horror Fest. We’ll be back October 12-14! Get your tickets now.

Faculty of Horror subreddit. Keep the conversation going on our subreddit page.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman. Symbolic interactionism and dramaturgical analysis.

Bertolt Brecht. Avant-garde theatre practioner who believed in distancing an audience to encourage rational thought over emotional engagement.

Anne Dufourmantelle. The Philosophy of Hospitality. An exploration of the people involved in the dynamics of hospitality.

Jacques Derrida on Hospitality. The French philosopher’s take on the conditional and unconditional concepts of hospitality.

The 1990s Teen Horror Cycle. Alex’s new book is available now through McFarland Books!

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Episode 62. Surveilled: Peeping Tom (1960) and Psycho (1960)

 
In this episode, Alex and Andrea look through an illicit peephole into the world of the mad and macabre.  Both Peeping Tom and Psycho caused sensations when they were released in the same year, causing Western audiences to question the nature of evil, our proximity to one another and how many women we can watch die on screen.

REQUIRED READING

Peeping Tom. Dir. Michael Powell, 1960.
Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960.

EXTRA CREDIT

Class of 2018 T-shirts – Get ’em while their hot!

Salem Horror Fest – We’ll be back October 12-14! Get your tickets now.

Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema. Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking essay on the cinematic gaze

Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Carol Clover’s genre-defining book from 1992.

“Have You Ever Seen the inside of One of Those Places?”: Psycho, Foucault, and the Postwar Context of Madness. Cynthia Erb’s essay on institutionalization and Psycho.

Michael Powell’s ‘Peeping Tom’: the film that killed a career. An overview of the release and reaction to Peeping Tom.

The Misogyny of the Modern Slasher Film. Anna Biller’s blog post about the slasher sub-genre.

LISTEN

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Episode 61. Stardust: Event Horizon (1997) and Sunshine (2007)

Andrea and Alex reach for the heavens and find the furthest reaches of hell with two films about space exploration and the darkness therein. Event Horizon and Sunshine explore the different reasons humankind would dare try to conquer space and the horrors that might await us there.

REQUIRED READING

Event Horizon. Dir Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997.
Sunshine. Dir Danny Boyle, 2007.

EXTRA CREDIT

Class of 2018 t-shirts! Available until September 2018 – get ’em at Twisted Ts!

Death Count: All of the Deaths in the Friday the 13th Film Series, Illustrated by Stacie Ponder.

The Making of Event Horizon. Check out all the behind the scenes stories and detailed production history.

Event Horizon‘s shooting draft of the script.

The Myth of Oedipus. The Greek myth and the importance of sight.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous? The Scientist and the Cinema by Christopher Frayling. A book that specifically looks at the personalities of on-screen scientists.

Reasons Behind Cult Suicide. A look at the reasons and psychology behind mass suicide and why most of the “suicide cults” also involve a fair amount of homicide. 

Kermode Uncut Film Club: Sunshine. British critic Mark Kermode talks about appreciating Danny Boyle’s Sunshine.

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Episode 60. Season of the Witch: Witches in Film Part 3, The Witch (2015) and The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

The past few years have seen the figure of the witch become a cultural touchstone for progressives and conservatives alike. From the resurgence of astrology, tarot, and natural healing methods to feminist rallying cry, the witch has never been more inclusive or divisive. Through analysis of two recent films, Andrea and Alex examine the witch’s new meaning in contemporary Western society, and why she remains a symbol of subversive feminism.

REQUIRED READING

The VVitch: A New England Folktale. Dir. Robert Eggers, 2015.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Dir.  André Øvredal, 2016.

EXTRA CREDIT

Yes, This Is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You. Lindy West’s New York Times Op-Ed on the misappropriation of the term witch-hunt during the rise of the #MeToo movement.

Why the Witch Is the Pop-Culture Heroine We Need Right Now – A look at why the figure of the witch has become so deservedly popular.

Satanic Feminism by Per Faxneld. Faxneld’s book on the Devil as liberator of women in the nineteenth century.

The Book of English Magic – An overview of the real and perceived magic used across the British Isles, with a chapter dedicated to witches and witchcraft.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe post-screening Q & A – Following a showing at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, stars Emile Hirsh, Brian Cox and director André Øvredal talk about the making of The Autopsy of Jane Doe.

The Satanic Temple – Activism and critical film appreciation, apparently.

W.I.T.C.H. PDX – The figure of the witch adopted for anonymous activism in Portland. Start a local coven near you!

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