The Nun (2 stars)

The Nun

Messy and underwhelming addition to The Conjuring universe

'God Ends Here,' reads a door sign as The Nun opens. It might as well read 'Abandon hope,' because this headline outing for nun demon Valak is the weakest entry in the expanded universe of horrors spawned from James Wan's 2013 smash The Conjuring. Between its rickety scares, ramshackle plot and ropey tonal clashes, director Corin Hardy's second feature, following The Hallow, lacks the discipline to inspire fear, much less faith in its mysterious methods.

Though played to the hilt by Bonnie Aarons, Valak's snarling manifestations hardly surprise after her jump-scare showings in The Conjuring 2 and devil doll sequel Annabelle: Creation. Greater satisfaction comes from the plunging corridors and stairwells of a cloistered Romanian abbey, where two Vatican investigators and a local arrive in 1952 to investigate a nun's suicide and see if the place is remotely holy. Answer: hell, no.

Demián Bichir and Taissa Farmiga do their restrained best as – respectively – exorcist Father Burke and novitiate Sister Irene, though Jonas Bloquet is saddled with the script's tone-deaf bid to add roguish humour as local aide Frenchie, who soon hits on Irene. But they all struggle equally against the evils of overstated shocks and erratic plotting. As the trio splinter to explore the abbey, every trick in the big book of torrid religious scares is conjured to disturb their moorings: crucifixes invert, mirrors shatter, demonic children lunge. Meanwhile, the nuns clumsily hiss out enigmatic asides and explicatory matter, as required.

Even if one aim was to unsettle our grip on certainty by blurring reality and nightmare, the end-stretch devolves into a mess of moods. While Irene and Burke battle their demons, Frenchie is thrown into ill-fitting action dolt mode, recklessly waving around guns and one-liners. In a strong year for subtler horrors, The Nun's noisily squandered potential may feel like sacrilege to scare-seekers.

General release from Thu 6 Sep.

The Nun

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 36min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Corin Hardy
  • Cast: Bonnie Aarons, Taissa Farmiga, Charlotte Hope
  • UK release: 7 September 2018

Two Vatican investigators and a local (Bichir, Farmiga and Bloquet) arrive at a cloistered Romanian abbey in 1952 to investigate a nun’s suicide. The latest in the Conjuring series is the weakest, with Aarons playing nun demon Valak to the hilt but ultimately let down by overstated shocks and erratic plotting.