What's this lady's problem, anyway?
2018’s The Nun - the sequel to which has just been released in theaters - is a spin-off from director James Wan’s The Conjuring franchise. The Conjurings and their other spin-off, the Annabelle killer doll movies, are all “inspired by real events,” which is to say, some inexplicably spooky shit happened to some people once and decades later was greatly exaggerated in order to make movies. The malevolent, supernatural spirit at the center of The Nun, Valak, has been a part of Christian mythology for around 400 years, but the movie makes no claims to being non-fiction.
Which is a good thing, because The Nun is one of those movies where the characters all behave like complete idiots the whole time, for no better reason than that the filmmakers couldn’t figure out how to make the story happen if the people in it were to behave like real human beings for even a fraction of a second.
Wan didn’t direct The Nun - that dishonor fell to some poor schmuck named Corin Hardy - but he did produce it, and he shares a “story by” credit with screenwriter Gary Dauberman (It), so his family bears the shame of his failure regardless.
Most of The Nun takes place at an abbey in Romania in 1952. As the film opens, this one presumably-not-evil nun is being pursued by the titular presumably-definitely-evil Nun (Bonnie Aarons), and ultimately jumps out a window, because death is preferable to whatever the Nun has in store for her. And even though the Nun is hot on her heels, and even though she’s jumping from what is inarguably a great-enough height to result in her immediate demise, she still has the courtesy to stop and take the the time to tie a noose around her neck before she leaps, so that she can later be dramatically found dangling above the ground, with crows pecking at her corpse (P.S. How long is that fucking rope, anyway???).
The person unfortunate enough to find her in this state is a dude named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who lives in the local town and is in charge of delivering supplies to the abbey. Frenchie seems to be under the impression that there are other nuns living in the abbey besides this dead one, but he doesn’t try to talk to any of them or figure out why they left their peer’s dead body just hanging around; instead, he moves the body to a shed, “to protect it from the elements,” and takes the completely obvious next step and contacts the Vatican. The Vatican, in turn, decide this 25-year-old they don’t know is trustworthy and this must be some pretty serious shit into which they ought to look.
So do they contact anyone at the abbey? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. Instead, they immediately dispatch Father Burke (Demián Bichir), an exorcist living with the guilt of having failed to save a little boy from demonic possession during World War II. And because they want him to have a sidekick, with him they send Sister Irene (Tessa Farmiga, who most definitely landed the role on her own merits and not because her older sister, Vera Farmiga, is the star of the Conjuring movies), a novitiate who used to have religious visions. The filmmakers are careful to introduce Irene teaching kids about dinosaurs against the wishes of her abbess so secularist cretins like me will still like her.
But even Irene is like, “Why the fuck are they sending me and not a real nun?”, before Burke is all, “Shut up you stupid woman, the Church is infallible.” At this point the viewer has likely assumed the Vatican is sending Irene because her visions are gonna be important somehow, but that’s their dumb fault for assuming there’s going to be any logic in this movie whatsoever. The visions are never mentioned again.
So Burke and Irene go find Frenchie and he takes them to the abbey and flirts with Irene, and then flirts with Irene even harder when he finds out she’s not a real nun yet (we also learn that Frenchie is French Canadian, not French from France, which is entirely just a set-up for a lame joke near the end of the flick; the actor playing him is actually Belgian). So it seems like the story is going to be about testing Irene’s faith with both the Nun’s evilness and Frenchie’s penis before leading her someplace where she definitively decides she does or does not want to take the vows. But actually, no, her faith never waivers, she only seems mildly tempted by the prospect of hooking up with Frenchie, and when she does take her vows near the conclusion, it’s not a dramatic turning point, it’s just a caution to make extra-super-duper sure that God has her back when she goes to have her final fight against the Nun.
Our trio arrives at the abbey and things are immediately weird: Frenchie left the dead nun’s corpse laying down, but now it’s sitting up, and the Mother Superior is creepy AF and has a croaky voice and never takes off her opaque veil or moves even a fraction of an inch and if you’re guessing it turns out she’s actually just a dead body being puppeted by Valak, mazel tov, you’re smarter than the filmmakers assumed you to be.
The heroes, by way of contrast, are morons, so they take the mother superior at her word when she says the nuns in the abbey all take a nightly vow of silence that ends at sunrise - meaning they’ll have to sleep over if they wanna talk to anyone. Burke and Irene go along with this lunacy, but Frenchie is like, “Nope, nuh-uh, I’m outtie, hasta mañana.” Despite being scared for their safety, and despite wanting to bone Irene, he doesn’t offer to take them to the local inn or his guest room for the night, because, again, the movie has to happen.
So Frenchie bounces, and is walking back to his carriage, when he sees the dead nun standing in the cemetery holding her noose. Naturally, he does what anyone would do in that situation, especially after expressing fear regarding their current environment: He follows the dead, noose-carrying nun into the fog.
Shock of shocks, the dead nun attacks Frenchie, who manages to get away. As he leaves, he pulls one of the crucifix-shaped headstones out of the ground to use as protection, even being so kind as to say “I’ll take it!” aloud to himself as he desecrates the grave so the slower members of the audience understand what’s happening.
The next time we see Frenchie, an entire day has passed, and he’s sitting in a bar, drinking, and the crucifix is resting on the stool beside him, and no one seems to think that’s weird, which is doubly odd because, again, he’s apparently been sitting there for the past 24 hours (my man must be HAMMERED by now).
Meanwhile, Burke is all, “Hey, I can be just as stupid as anyone else!”, and takes a midnight stroll through the very same foggy cemetery as Frenchie. While doing so, he sees the dead little boy he failed to save a decade earlier in the distance, and not only does he follow the kid, but he calls out his name - “Daniel!” - as though there were any chance whatsoever this was actually the dead child and not some evil scary shit (maybe he forgot why he came here in the first place?).
The Nun manages to push Burke into a coffin and bury him alive, but no one should feel bad for this nincompoop, because that’s what he gets for being such a big dumb dummy.
Fortunately for him, it’s one of those old-timey graves with a bell attached so the deceased can ring for help if they’re not really dead yet. Also fortunately for him, Irene doesn’t have two brain cells she can rub together to make a third, so then she wanders out into the cemetery, hears the bell, and digs Burke out. And then they go back inside and go to sleep, as one does after being nearly killed by a demon.
The next day, Irene meets Sister Exposition (Ingrid Bisu, who most definitely landed the role on her own merits and not because she’s married to James Wan), who explains to Irene that the abbey was originally a castle built during the dark ages (which is actually at least 200 years earlier than anyone wrote about Valak, but whatever) by some aristocrat who was obsessed with the occult. Said occult-obsessed aristocrat raised the demon Valak through a hole in the ground (seriously), but then some Christian knights were able to seal up the hole using the blood of Christ, which they conveniently have stored in a special amulet (it takes many extremely painful hours, if not days, to die from crucifixion; I guess someone stood there with a thermos or something while an agonized Christ slowly bled out because they knew his plasma would likely come in handy some day).
Unfortunately, during WWII, the abbey was bombed, and the hole opened up again, so now Valak is out here doing their Valak thing. Consequently, the nuns in the abbey take shifts praying 24/7 over the hole so Valak can’t, uh… I dunno. Valak is already out of the hole. I guess the praying stops them from leaving the convent? But, no, that can’t be right, ‘cause they’re already chillin’ out in the cemetery. So I don’t know why the nuns are praying day and night.
I also don’t understand what happens if Valak gets free(er); the Vatican must know something about what’s going on at the abbey, or they would not have sent Burke in the first place, but they also must not care all that much, because they only sent Burke, the abbey’s history is not common knowledge, and they never dispatched an exorcist to combat Valak prior to that one nun’s suicide. In other words, they’re being far too casual about this for me to believe they’re genuinely worried about Valak. Perhaps they just knew that the movie had a relatively low budget and couldn’t waste money on having more than three or four actors on screen at any given time.
What does the Nun want, anyway? It’s never made clear what this lady’s problem is (or even why she favors the form of a nun). Which isn’t a dealbreaker - we never learn why the demon Pazuzu wants to possess Regan in The Exorcist, after all - but it does definitely add to the general sense that the makers of this movie didn’t actually give a fuck about anything other than tricking you into giving them your money. The Nun has multiple opportunities to kill Irene, Burke, and Frenchie, and she doesn’t just squander them, she frequently outright lets the trio get away. I guess she figured if they can act like idiots so the movie can happen, then she can, too.
Eventually, Irene and Burke catch up with what the audience figured out an hour earlier - that none of the nuns are real, they’ve all been dead for some time, and the nun from the opening of the movie killed herself to prevent Valak from getting loose. Again, it seems to me that she was a day late and a dollar short in that regard, but what do I know? If I understood how to dupe an audience as well as the people who run Warner Bros., I’d be rich, not writing about this dreck for tens of readers on Substack.
So now Frenchie comes back to the abbey with a shotgun, because surely that will help combat the shape-shifting Satanic entity. Meanwhile, Irene and Burke manage to locate the magical amulet with Jesus’ blood in it - the nuns hid it inside a wall and didn’t tell anyone, which is, it should go without saying, the exact right course of action to take with the only weapon capable of stopping this incredible threat. It’s vaguely implied that maybe the Nun wants the vial precisely because it’s one thing that can end her reign of terror, but that idea is really only brought up in like the last five seconds before Irene defeats her.
How does Irene defeat her, you ask? DUH: She drinks the Jesus blood when no one is looking, successfully holds it in her mouth without swallowing while the Nun strangles and attempts to drown her, and then and spits it in the Nun’s face when the evil adversary least expects it. Why, it’s almost TOO easy…
ANYWAY, at the very end of the movie, we come to realize that Frenchie has been possessed by Valak, because The Nun II needs to happen. Truly, these filmmakers are doing The Lord’s work.