‘The Nun’ — a rollercoaster of scares

This time of year, heading into the Halloween season always makes me think about my own relationship to horror movies. I remember catching bits of movies like “Alien” and “Friday the 13th”on hotel TVs while on vacation, and sneaking a peak at movies like “Nightmare on Elm Street on basic cable when my parents weren’t paying attention. Like a lot of people, I imagine, I used to like these kinds of movies when I was young, but the older I get, the less likely I am to give them a try. I checked out about the time Eli Roth and the “Hostel” movies came into vogue. I’ve only seen one of the “Saw” movies and wasn’t’ particularly impressed. I make a distinction, however, between “horror” and “scary.” Scary movies, I like. Movies like “The Conjuring,” and its ilk can be a real blast, especially if they are hemmed in by a PG-13 rating that doesn’t allow them to get too far out.

Speaking of “The Conjuring,” director James Wan and the production company behind it have struck a goldmine. The tale of a ghost hunting couple contains a brilliant set-piece – a trophy room, of sorts, containing relics from each of their cases. It’s a perfect set-up of any number of ghost stories, starting with the haunted doll tale “Annabelle” and continuing this week with “The Nun,” about a haunted… well a haunted nun. Ok – creative these movies are not, but that doesn’t keep them from being a lot of fun.

“The Nun” takes place in 1952, in rural Romania. When a young nun commits suicide at a remote Abbey, the Vatican calls in the services of traveling exorcist and paranormal investigator, Father Burke, played by Demian Bichir. Burke is world-weary and has seen it all, but his suspicions are aroused at the request to investigate a tragic, but relatively banal event. Enlisting the aid of young noviate Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga, the Father proceeds into the wilderness. Upon arrival to the village, however, Burke discovers that the situation is anything by ordinary. Residents have complained of strange goings on at the abbey for years and though the cloister is fully staffed, no one ever sees the nuns in person. When Burke and Irene knock, they are ushered in, despite the feeling that entire building is abandoned. The weirdness doesn’t stop there, as every interaction with the sisters gets stranger and stranger. At one point Irene is told that the order practice perpetual prayer, taking turns praying constantly, day and night, in order to ward off an unseen evil. Soon enough that evil will make itself known, in the form of a tall, dark habited form with glowing eyes and a faint whiff of demon about it.

The worst thing about these films (though often the most amusing, as well) is the writing. “The Nun” isn’t awful, but occasionally the dialogue ventures into melodrama or just plain nonsense. The plotting is a little repetitious, flowing from search, to jump scare and back again. But then again, what should we expect from a movie like this. I read a criticism of it and movies like it that the abundance of jump scares make it less of a scary movie and more of a startling one. I can see where that critic was coming from, but I disagree with the premise. Consider a carnival. People don’t ride a roller coaster because they want to be terrified; they want to be scared for a minute and then go back to laughing at themselves for their reaction. Does a movie like “The Nun” need much more plot development than a roller coaster? Well, sure, in that most roller coasters don’t last 90 minutes, but the idea is the same. Jump scares are the bread and butter of movies like this. If you want nuanced and disturbing, go see “Seven”

If you want to see the lady in the row in front of you throw her popcorn in the air, go see “The Nun.” Grade: B+

“The Nun” is rated PG-13 for scary scenes of death and a frightening nun.

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