Taissa Farmiga

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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The Final Girls

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is a teenage girl who lost her mother (Malin Akerman) in a tragic car accident 3 years ago. Her mother was an actress whose most famous role was in a cheesy 80’s slasher flick. On the anniversary of her mother’s death Max gets sucked into attending a screening of the slasher movie. During the film a fire breaks out in the theater. Max and her friends escape by cutting through the movie screen and walking through it, only to find themselves trapped inside the movie. Now Max and her friends have to keep themselves alive until the horror movie they are trapped in ends.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I LOVE this movie. Not only did I love it, but there are many things to love about this film. One of my favorite parts was simply the originality of the story. The “Camp Bloodbath” film is obviously paying homage to Friday the 13th. The idea that these modern day teens somehow accidentally transport themselves into an 80’s slasher makes for some hilarious scenes related to the differences in clothing and technology. It’s so clever that I’m not even bothered by the fact that we have no idea how these kids ended up in the movie world in the first place. While the filmmakers are clearly honoring the classic slasher films, they also mercilessly make fun of them. It is absolutely hilarious. They make fun of everything including the over-the-top acting, bad writing, and the fact that sex is equal to death. The filmmakers even included classic 80’s horror movie music, but they updated it a bit in order to keep it fresh.

The acting in this film was perfect. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) alone was brilliant. She does a great job of portraying the girl next door, but with an added edge that makes her more interesting. What was really brilliant was the juxtaposition of the “real teens” acting compared to the acting of the teens from “Camp Bloodbath.” It was hilarious to see the real teens and their reactions, especially next to the teens from the slasher flick who are acting so over the top and cheesy. Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat) surprised me in this film. I usually am not very fond of her or her acting, but she managed to win me over in The Final Girls both as Max’s mother, Amanda, and as the shy camp counselor from “Camp Bloodbath,” Nancy. Two standouts in this film are the over-sexed camp counselors Kurt (Adam DeVine) and Tina (Angela Timbur). They perfectly fit the 80’s slasher stereotype of the not-too-bright counselors that only care about getting laid. These two definitely stole some scenes with how hilarious they were.

The various effects and styles of this film also contributed to its success. The cinematography is gorgeous. There are a few scenes where they fluidly move from one point of view to another in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in other films. The effects they utilized to transition to and from the flashback scenes were also quite unique and added some interest to the film while we experience things the way the teens from the real world do. I honestly can’t say anything bad about the CGI in this film. They used it in a relatively sparing way. When they did use it the effects were slightly over the top, but in a way that fit the film in a perfect way. The same goes for the practical effects. There were some practical effects used for the various kill scenes, but those scenes were not very gory considering this is a PG-13 movie. There was really only one aspect of the practical effects that I didn’t like, and it is really so minuscule that most people probably wouldn’t even notice. In the beginning of the film when we see Max with her mother, Amanda, they clearly had to age Amanda a bit because she was much younger when she filmed “Camp Bloodbath.” The only real effort that can be noticed to age her was subtle prosthetics under her eyes to add wrinkles. As I said, it was pretty subtle, but what really bothered me about it is that I could tell they were prosthetics. The edges didn’t seem to be blended very well and the color of the prosthetics didn’t match her skin tone, making it stick out a bit. This may seem nitpicky, but it ruined the age makeup for me.

I really had so much fun watching this film. It had everything you could want from a horror comedy. There was an interesting story, it made fun of itself, it honored the classics, can be touching at times, and I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire time. What makes this film even better, is that it has outtakes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror movie, or even a horror comedy, that has outtakes at the end. This is the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, even those that don’t love horror films. You can even bring younger audiences to see this since it has a rating of PG-13. This is definitely a must see film that will keep you laughing the whole way through, and maybe even make you tear up a bit, with an ending that couldn’t have been better if I wrote it myself.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10