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From the beginning

Taissa Farmiga as Sister Irene in ‘The Nun’ (Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc)


From the beginning

Conjuring origins film offers a lot of white-knuckle action

New Line Cinema’s Conjuring universe is a series of horror films centered on or connected to the exploits of 1970s-era, real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. 

The Nun is the fifth installment of the series that began with The Conjuring in 2013. The Nun explores the origins of a demonic character the Warrens encounter in The Conjuring 2. The movie rewinds to a remote Romanian abbey in 1952 where a young nun takes her own life. Troubled by the death, the Vatican sends a priest, Father Burke (Demián Bichir), who specializes in the demonic to investigate along with a young novitiate, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), who is prone to having visions. There the pair encounter the demon Valak in the form of a ferocious-faced nun.

The Nun has been advertised as the darkest chapter in the Conjuring universe, and it is indeed a jump-scare-filled, at times gory fright-fest, earning its R rating. It doesn’t have any nudity or sex and only one outright swear word, while, in context, the other mentions of God could be taken as prayers.

While The Nun is an action-packed 96 minutes, for an origin story, The Nun lacks, well, story. Director Corin Hardy focuses so much on making audiences white knuckle grip their popcorn that the characters get lost and stay flat. Also, there is such a small amount of time spent exploring how the demon Valak came to have so much power over the convent’s faithful nuns and how it came to inhabit the convent at all that we barely understand the demon more at the end of the movie than at the beginning.

Still, some Christian artists have argued that modern evangelicalism should engage with the horror genre by telling stories that take supernatural evil seriously and show that supernatural good is superior. In that sense, The Nun is worthy horror. Throughout the movie, the cross and prayer provide the only protection against the demonic nun’s physical and mental terror, with one nun exclaiming, “Whatever you do, don’t stop praying.”

As the evil in the abbey grows, so do the prayers of the people in it, but that isn’t enough. The only thing that can defeat the nun is the blood of Jesus Christ.

Literally. It's obviously a theologically questionable solution—what are demon hunters supposed to do if they don’t happen to have a vial of Jesus’ blood lying around? The disciples in the New Testament needed only to command in Jesus’ name, so in this way the plot gives too much power to evil. That said, it would be a pretty short movie if all Father Burke had to do was show up and command Valak to leave, and the narrative does provide a fantastical picture of Jesus’ dominion over death and hell on the cross.

Sometimes evil does come in a priest’s robes, a suit, or a nun’s habit.

One last thought. As sexual abuse allegations continue to come to light within the Catholic and Protestant church along with allegations of the improper handling of these cases, The Nun provides one other worthy truth. Sometimes evil does come, as in Jesus’ words, in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15), in a priest’s robes, a suit, or (in this movie’s case) a nun’s habit. One nun declares that Valak, a demon walking the halls in the form of a nun, “looks like us but she’s not one of us.”

Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, Conn., said that perhaps the church “has been lulled into complacency about the power of evil.” The Nun can remind us that the church is not immune from Satan’s grasp, that we must be willing to face the evil within our congregations, and that, in the end, Jesus Christ is our only hope for discernment and salvation.