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Front Page - Friday, September 14, 2018

Critic's Corner: Worst habits of genre confirmed in nonsensical ‘Nun’

If the “The Nun” has any value, it’s as a cautionary tale about the dangers of following spooky things into shadowy places.

The characters in this spin-off of “The Conjuring” repeatedly follow creepy-looking nuns, a demon-possessed boy and even a tiny bell tied to a string into the dark corners of a medieval Romanian castle.

The results are what you’d expect. After following the first nun around several corners, only to have her ambush me from the blackness, I believe I’d learn to hang back.

But not the characters in “The Nun.” They insist on making the same mistakes again and again, which made it hard for me to connect with any of them.

I did identify with one character. Near the end of the baffling film, a local named Frenchie says he’s confused about what’s going on. “I don’t understand any of what you just said, but let’s get out of here,” he says to a nun named Sister Irene, who’s just completed an exhaustive explanation about a ghastly event.

Frenchie and I were simpatico at that point in the film, as I had no clue about what was going on, either. I don’t think that was my fault, though, as “The Nun” is a narrative mess.

The movie starts out well, with the Vatican sending Sister Irene and Father Burke to an abbey in Romania in 1952 to investigate the suicide of a nun.

The abbey is a thing of chilling beauty. The medieval structure, with its aging grey stone walls, concave spires and gaping windows, looks lifted out of an old Hammer film.

The interior of the abbey is filled with tight corridors, fog-filled passageways and small rooms built to keep out any sliver of sunlight. There are headless Christs hanging on crosses, bizarre sepulchers and sanctuaries designed to give one nightmares.

Darkness is pervasive in “The Nun.” Characters carry torches, lanterns and even flashlights, but the surrounding murk swallows up their glow. I assume this was intentional, as the production values and art design for “The Nun” are first-rate and suggest someone was trying to make a good movie.

But the folks in charge of filling this spine-chilling space with a coherent story must have been more concerned with delivering regular jolts and jollies. Soon after Sister Irene and Father Burke arrive at the abbey, “The Nun” regresses into a carnival show, with jump scares and hair-raising hijinks that have no apparent tie to the story occurring like clockwork.

These set pieces look great, but like the dips and turns on a roller coaster, they’re merely designed to make people scream and forget that nothing else is going on.

By the end, I was confused. The film’s central evil ostensibly resides in a secluded part of the abbey “where God ends,” so what’s causing all the commotion and why? Sister Irene has visions, but what about Father Burke and Frenchie?

I don’t think the people who made “The Nun” thought these things through, despite giving the film a needlessly complex back-story that involves an evil Duke, a relic containing the actual blood of Jesus and a World War II air raid that opened a gate to hell.

If you think all that sounds silly, imagine seeing these details delivered by actors who did their best to appear sincere.

To make matters worse, “The Nun” has no sense of geography. Most of the movie takes place in the abbey, but director Cordin Hardy didn’t establish where each room is in relation to the others. This gives the film a disjointed feel.

Despite being a jumble story wise, “The Nun” does feature a natural and unaffected performance by Taissa Farmiga, sister of actress Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren in “The Conjuring” films. Taissa delivered a performance worthy of a better movie and was a pleasure to watch.

If the purpose of “The Nun” was to provide a meaningful addition to the so-called “Conjuring Universe,” it failed. But there’s still hope for the spin-off.

The first Annabelle movie, also a spin-off of “The Conjuring,” was a blight on the big screen, but its sequel was surprisingly good.

The same thing can happen with “The Nun.” The characters in the movie might not have learned from their mistakes, but that doesn’t mean the filmmakers can’t learn from theirs.