After the suicide of a nun at a mysterious convent in rural Romania, a priest (Demian Bichir) and a trainee nun (Taissa Farmiga) are dispatched to investigate and discover an evil secret buried beneath the surface.
'The Conjuring', when it was first released in 2013, was a welcome breath of decrepit air into the horror genre and harkened back to its '70s heyday with a reliance on atmosphere, practical effects and strong performances by likeable actors such as Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston and Vera Farmiga. That the movie was able to fire off two separate spin-offs is a testament to horror's ability to replicate itself quickly at the first sign of success, but also how much audiences are turning their back on the likes of found-footage horrors and the like.
If 'The Conjuring' was cribbing from 'The Amityville Horror' and the like, 'The Nun' is taking its cues from Hammer horrors such as 'The Devil Rides Out' and 'The Gorgon' with all of the unintended campiness along for the ride. The fog machine gets put into overdrive and the camera angles tilt at every available opportunity, and the performances are just as wooden and reliably flat as you'd expect.
What's disappointing, however, is that Corin Hardy - whilst clearly referencing all these - is also bound by the conventions of modern horror. There's the customary drawn-out anticipatory moments, there's the airhorn-like jump scares, and naturally there's even the look-away-look-back scares in there as well. In fact, so much of the frights are so clearly signposted and rote in their nature that they're incredibly easy to predict.
In spite of the by-the-numbers nature, there's still some parts of 'The Nun' that are enjoyable. The camera just eats up the decrepit set design beautifully and Abel Korzeniowski's score is deliciously over-the-top and perfectly suits the tone of the movie. There's more than a few scenes that feel far too self-aware to be anything other than placed into the scheme of things for humour's sake; one scene in particular feels like it was pulled from 'Monty Python's The Holy Grail'.
As horrors go, 'The Nun' is a decent enough riff on campy Hammer horrors that's mercifully short and is aware of its own shortcomings enough to not take itself seriously.