Nuns, even in non-supernatural form, are all kinds of intimidating. Ask anyone who was brought up in Catholic school. So it seems easy pickings to crank up the fright factor and make a horror movie out of the nun concept. The scowling demon face peeking out from inside the dark habit does about 95 percent of the freak-out legwork for "The Nun."
Is it asking too much for the plot and suspense to carry the other 5 percent and make the movie work as a horror experience?
"The Nun" is an awful attempt at a horror movie. When it tries to be scary, it's mostly confusing and weird. It's what the kids tend to call "extra," which is a way of saying it tries too hard.
Take the moment with that scary-looking nun decides to torment a priest (Demian Bechir) who's invaded her remote, spooky Romanian cathedral to do... something or other. A staunch believer in the Spooky Romanian Cathedral Stand Your Ground Law, she is well within her rights to chase him off. The movie amounts to a remake of "Home Alone," with the Nun in the Macaulay Culkin role.
Instead of going the simple route and doing what any efficient undead ghost demon might do -- say, make things rattle and fall off the wall -- she sends him tumbling into a conveniently-placed open casket. Then she buries him alive, courteously leaving him with a bell he can ring to alert a nun-in-training (Taissa Farmiga) he's brought along on his adventure before ill-advisedly deciding to split up with.
Once the priest starts to ring the bell, she conjures several more bells in the graveyard, getting them to ring so as to confuse the Junior Nice Nun. Why Evil Nun didn't take a more direct route and stuff Junior Nice Nun into a coffin of her own, who can say. Maybe she doesn't see it as sporting enough.
"The Nun" turns out to be the waste of a perfectly good ghost demon.
Her powers include walking slowly and ominously down dark corridors, popping up from behind people to freak them out, and occasionally producing a long, snake-like black tongue she uses to possess people.
The heroes' efforts to battle Evil Nun range from just as stupidly elaborate to idiotically simplistic. One sidekick takes to blasting away at the Evil Nun and her lackeys with a shotgun. Other methods include finding a lost relic, tricking Evil Nun into thinking she's found it, only to hide the holy contents within a bodily cavity, fake like you're dead and produce the hidden contents at just the right time.
If you've seen the trailer, though, you've experienced most of the shock factor already. The film spends most of its running time going the less-is-more route trademarked by "Jaws" and "The Blair Witch Project," but it gets to the point that the Nun is gone so long that you start to check your phone to see if there's a Silver Alert out for her. Is she OK? Did she get lost somewhere in the dank Romanian catacombs? Did she get caught up binge-watching Netflix and forget there were people hanging around to scare and possess?
"The Nun" is just plain strained and slow. It's the fifth film in "The Conjuring" series, which includes the two "Annabelle" spinoffs. Each of the films has some shocking moments, and each claims to be inspired by a true story. After each outing, but we are well into the realm of diminishing returns. There are more giggles than shrieks, and the biggest laugher of all is the opening line that the movie is based on events that happened in 1952.
What are the odds anything remotely like this ever happened? Zero to nun.
RATING: 1.5 stars out of 4.