The Nun (15)

THE Conjuring universe continues to find ways to expand with this prequel. It takes us further back in time into the creepy goings on that make up its supernatural world, and specifically the nature of the eponymous demonic presence that first made its appearance in The Conjuring 2.

We all know about haunted houses in these types of movies, where all manner of things go bump in the night, but what about a convent? Events take place in 1952, when Catholic priest Father Burke (Demián Bichir) is tasked by the Vatican with escorting a young novice nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), to investigate the mysterious suicide of a nun at an ancient, secluded monastery which is located deep within the mountains of Romania.

They recruit Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) – a local man who regularly delivers supplies to the monastery. He was also the one to actually discover the nun’s body. Once they arrive they discover that there’s much more to the case than just a suicide; the convent is being haunted by a malevolent demonic force which manifests itself to look like one of their own.

Both Sister Irene, still yet to take her official religious vows, and Father Burke feel a strong need to rid the terrified convent of what plagues the religious sanctum. This gives the plot a welcome sense of purpose you might not normally get from this sort of plot, while also going some way to eliminate that pesky question of “why don’t the characters just leave?”

There’s sometimes of an issue with prequels inherently relying on you needing to have seen the other films (which in this case includes the two Annabelle prequels) to really understand what’s going on. But for the most part, with the exception of bookending connective tissue, it avoids that pitfall and works pretty effectively both for those who know the rest of the series and as an individual, enjoyable ghost train of an experience in its own right.

It takes a little while to properly get going and occasionally relies on heavy-handed exposition even more than some of the other films; an elongated flashback sequence which explains how and why the central location became so haunted by supernatural forces sticks out like a mangled thumb. It proves that what we don’t know about an antagonist is often what makes them so interesting.

However, its primary focus is on the scares and it crucially delivers pretty well on that front – what easily could have been laughable manages to be anything but. When the scares are not leaping out at you, as the franchise so often does, they lurk in the atmosphere like a poltergeist. Director Corin Hardy (The Hallow) utilizes the dark crevices, hidden rooms and maze-like corridors to creepy effect, while Abel Korzeniowski’s haunting choral score provides an unnerving accompanying soundscape.

The film does get into the habit of looking ominously down a darkened hallway as the titular malevolent sister floats towards us. Rinse and repeat. But in the end it’s a pretty frightening image worthy of being mined so many times for scares.

Only time will tell if she becomes an iconic figure of the genre, but thanks to an unsettling physical performance by long-time character actress Bonnie Aarons and some really well-done make-up – all piercing black and white eyes and bloody, sharpened teeth – it’s a solid attempt at horror villain mythmaking.