Blumhouse

The Nun

nun

A young nun kills herself in a remote Romanian castle. The Vatican sends a troubled priest and a young nun who has yet to take her final vows to investigate. Their search leads them down a dark path. The pair realize an ancient evil is trying to escape and it is up to them to stop it.

This latest installment in The Conjuring universe is written by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle: Creation) and directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow).  The film has a very dark and ominous tone. It creates a great gothic atmosphere that lends itself to the ancient Romanian castle. The plot is, for the most part, very simple. The ancient castle holds an evil that the nuns have been able to hold off over the years, but now it threatens to escape. That entity is the character Conjuring fans will remember as Valak. The film has some pretty frightening moments and Valak is not someone you would want to run into in an ancient Romanian castle.

Sadly, there are many flaws in this film as well. One that many fans will likely notice is how little Valak is actually in the film. There are many faceless nuns haunting the halls, but it isn’t really until the climax of the film that Valak becomes a prominent figure. The film also seems to lack any true direction. Other than trying to find out why the nun killed herself and stopping the evil entity, there are only a couple half-realized plot points. The story touches on the priest’s tragic past performing an exorcism, but then only uses that as a mechanism to include more scares in the film. The young nun accompanying him had visions when she was young, yet those visions don’t have much relevancy to the plot. What’s even more disappointing is how the filmmakers connected The Nun to The Conjuring films. Without giving anything away, there was a simple and more obvious way to connect the characters and the films. Yet, for some reason the filmmakers went for a route that was more forced and felt out of place with the rest of the film. There are also aspects of the climax that seem to be derivative of Demon Knight. Again, since I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, I won’t get into specifics, but those who have seen Demon Knight will see what I mean.

While the characters may not be fully fleshed out, the performances are still quite good. Taissa Farmiga (The Final Girls, Anna) stars as Sister Irene. Sister Irene is a different kind of nun than audiences are used to seeing. She asks questions, yet she is very devout in her faith. Her visions seem to be an important part of who she is as a person and why she chose to become a nun, yet they are really only mentioned in passing. Luckily, Farmiga acts beyond what she was given in the script to still allow audiences to connect to the character. Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight, Savages) also gives a compelling performance as Father Burke. Similar to Sister Irene’s story, Father Burke discusses how he lost an innocent during an exorcism. This seems like it is a large part of his character, yet this part of his past ends up just being used as a way to scare audiences. Bichir does what he can, making me wish I could know more about his character. Then there is Jonas Bloquet (Elle, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Frenchie. He is clearly meant to be comedic relief throughout the film, and Bloquet definitely is funny, yet the humor does not fit with the overall tone of the film. Frenchie is an entertaining character, but he feels pigeonholed into the film. A great cast is clearly underutilized, yet they did as much as they could with the material they were given.

The highlight of The Nun is the visuals. The set design is by far the most impressive aspect. The castle and surrounding grounds are both beautiful and haunting, making the film sinister from start to finish. Even though the film takes place in the 1950’s, it has a very medieval feel which lends to the ancient demonic presence the priest and nun are fighting. The evil itself has a very iconic look as well. Valak has a very striking look that is terrifying without needing to really try. While fans will recognize Valak and that demon’s look, the film uses other nuns as well to add to the fear. These nuns are faceless. They are creepy and their style allows for Valak to stand out as the primary focus. There is a good mix of jump scares and more subtle, spine-tingling moments that balance out nicely throughout the film.

Despite its early buzz, The Nun is likely to be quickly forgotten. The film boasts strong performances and some of the most striking visuals of any film in The Conjuring universe. What it lacks is fully developed characters and a complete story that connects well to the other films in the franchise. The Nun has enough frightening moments to make it a fun popcorn flick, but it lacks some of the substance fans will be used to from the rest of the franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

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Insidious: The Last Key

insidious

Parapsychologist Elise Rainier is back, and this time her newest case will take her to where it all began. A man calls asking for Elise’s help. It turns out the man lives in her childhood house. Elise is forced to remember her tragic past and the horrifying events that lead up to her returning to her hometown. She must solve this case in order to save her family from the demon that ruined their lives.

I want to start by giving some context to the film as it is technically another prequel to the first two installments. This film takes place after Elise has helped Quinn, and before she helps Dalton. The timeline for the Insidious films is as follows: Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2. That being said, there is a lot of timeline overlap between the films thanks to the Further breaking the rules of time and flashbacks. The best part of this installment is that it finally gives me what I wanted; more of Elise’s backstory. Through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences the audience finally gets to learn about Elise’s childhood and the events that lead her becoming a parapsychologist. It is the strongest aspect of the film, and I wish there was much more of it.

Much of the downside to this film is when we get to the present. The first half of the film deals with more of Elise’s past, but when we see the investigation at her childhood house things begin to spiral downward. The main issue is that the filmmakers attempt to cram too many subplots into one story. There is Elise’s origin, the investigation at her old house, and what happens when she once again enters the Further. While any two of these would work well together, having all three storylines together in a single film is a bit much. As a result, while Elise’s backstory feels more complete, the other two subplots are underdeveloped. It gives the impression that the resolutions come too quickly and too easily. Especially when looking at what happens in the Further, there is virtually no explanation for much of what is shown. What’s even worse is that we never get a true sense of what the ultimate villain is trying to achieve or why. Many of his actions have no purpose, or at least not one that is apparent to audiences. If you look back at the early trailers and some of the promotional stills from the film there are several scenes that were not in the final cut of the film. It makes me wonder what this film could have been and if there was more explanation before the studio got their hands on it.

Along with Elise’s backstory being a strong point for The Last Key, Elise herself is likely the strongest aspect of the entire Insidious franchise. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) has been the one constant as Elise throughout the films. She always delivers a strong performance, and the fact that a horror film franchise focuses on a strong elderly woman is absolutely fantastic. Shaye makes the most of this film, despite some of the clunky dialogue, and makes audiences fall in love with her all over again. No matter what, Shaye shines through and commands the screen. As always, Elise has her trusty sidekicks by her side in this installment. There is Leigh Whannell (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Specs and Angus Sampson (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Tucker. They bring some heart and comedic relief to the thrills and chills of the film.

The Insidious films are known for having iconic and stylistic demons. The Last Key is no different. The villain, known only as KeyFace, has some disturbing creature design created with prosthetics, which are worn by none other than Javier Botet (Mama, REC). Unfortunately the amazing character design gets lost in the lack of character development. It is unfortunate that Botet’s talent is somewhat wasted in this fantastic design simply because the character is weakly written. Despite that, he is still frightening and he is the focal point for several scares throughout the film. Much like in Chapter 3, The Last Key relies heavily on jump scares and lacks some of the more subtle scares of the first two films. This film succeeds the most in building the anticipation for the jump scares. The filmmakers make you wait and wait, knowing that jump scare is coming, before the scare is finally delivered. Unfortunately, in many cases, the anticipation is more thrilling than the actual scare, but there are still plenty of frightening moments.

Insidious: The Last Key fulfills my wish of learning more about Elise, but it is still probably the weakest installment of the franchise. There are simply too many subplots, not enough development of those subplots and characters, and there are several weak points in the dialogue. Despite that, there are still some positives of the film. Elise has a fascinating backstory that audiences finally get to learn, and Shaye does a fantastic job reprising the role of Elise. While we don’t get enough information about him, the design for KeyFace is still quite iconic and disturbing. I only wish there had been more focus on him as a villain and his motivation. The Last Key completes the story of Elise in the Insidious franchise. It is an important piece of the puzzle worth watching, but I can only hope there is a director’s cut in the future that will give fans something more polished.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

Incarnate

A scientist named Dr. Ember discovers he has the ability to enter the minds of individuals who are possessed. After the loss of his family, Ember decides to use his ability to evict the parasitic entities out of the possessed in hopes of finding the one that took his family from him. When a young boy becomes possessed his single mother reaches out to the church for help. When the church realizes this is more than they can handle, and it may be the entity Ember is looking for, they call him in for help. He undergoes is largest battle, all within the mind of a child.

In all honesty, I had very low expectations going into this film. I was concerned that it was going to essentially be a repeat of The Darkness which was made by the same production company, stars the same child actor, and has one well known actor in it. For the most part, Incarnate exceeds my expectations. What I enjoy about this film is that it approaches possession from a more scientific standpoint. What takes hold of the child isn’t a demon, but more of a parasitic thing that feeds off of his energy. It gives a fresh take to a classic possession film that tickles my science-minded fancy. The filmmakers also do an excellent job of explaining the scientific aspects in a way that feels natural. It doesn’t sound like the characters are talking about it for the sake of audience understanding.

There are some aspects of this story that I don’t enjoy as much. One thing that I can’t get over is the motivation behind why the demon is fixated on Ember. Obviously Ember wants to find the demon because the demon killed his wife and son, but I don’t understand why the demon wants to ruin Ember’s life. It is implied that the demon can sense Ember’s power, which would lead one to believe that the demon wants him dead so Ember can’t continue to evict demons. The issue with this theory is that there are many others like Ember, yet the demon doesn’t seem to care about anyone else. Another similar thing that isn’t explored enough is the odd fact that the possessed boy and his mother look eerily similar to Ember’s deceased wife and son. My initial though is that this was a purposeful casting choice. Maybe the demon chooses the lookalikes in order to torture Ember that much more. At no point are the physical similarities brought up, so it is hard to determine if it is part of the plot or just coincidence. Beyond those two aspects I am also still on the fence about the ending for this film. I won’t go into detail, but it feels like the filmmakers phoned it in  bit.

Earlier I made a comparison between Incarnate and The Darkness, one of the similarities being that it had one major actor in it that audiences would easily recognize. For The Darkness that actor was Kevin Bacon, but even he couldn’t save that film. Incarnate’s top billing actor is Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight, Olympus Has Fallen) as Dr. Ember. Eckhart does an excellent job of portraying men who have been damaged by some kind of heartbreak. This film is no different. He is a perfect blend of tortured and determined. While the other performances in this film are fine, Eckhart is definitely the driving force that makes audiences pay attention.

One thing that this film does that I approve of is subtle effects. Those who are possessed can only be separated from those who aren’t by their somewhat sickly look and red eyes. Even in the dream world the only physical characteristic that allows you to discern demons from others are black eyes. There is only one scene where you get an idea of what a demon looks like outside of its human form, but the filmmakers clearly made a conscious decision not to show the audience everything. In an age where horror films tend to show too much, making the situations and evil beings much less terrifying, this is a very wise move.

While Incarnate exceeds many of my expectations, there are still things that fall a bit short of what could be a near perfect reinvention of a possession film. The scientific aspects and the acting are definitely the highlights. I also commend the filmmakers for not showing the full monty when it comes to the demons. If there was just a bit more exploration into why the demon wants Ember and why the mother and son Ember is helping look so much like his dead family, this movie would be a home run.  As it is, I’m left with too many questions that I need answered. Either way I would say this is worth a watch because it is exciting and brings something new to the table.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10