2.5 stars (out of 5)
A spin-off from and prequel to The Conjuring 2, this plodding horror is the origin story of the nasty phantom nun that appeared in that film and Annabelle: Creation (the other Conjuring spin-off/prequel), and please note that she was apparently a last-minute addition to TC2 by that one’s director/producer James Wan just to make things a little scarier, which they were, sort of. They’re not here, though, with director Corin Hardy lumbering through a messy story and unable to do much with the big freaky moments, despite the okay cast and some nicely ominous Romanian scenery.
In 1952 an isolated and secretive convent is host to one of those pesky ancient evils, and a striking enough opening sequence leads the Vatican (although the production never left Romania) to send grim Father Burke (Demián Bichir) to investigate with help from young Sister Irene, who hasn’t taken her final vows yet, is given to ho-hum psychic visions and is played by Taissa Farmiga (whose sister Vera plays Lorraine Warren in the Conjurings). With help from nervous relocated French-Canadian (?) Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the unlikely group are only allowed admission to the crumbling place at certain times, meaning that they keep on splitting up and falling prey to a selection of paranormal events including elaborate manifestations of Burke’s guilt, worried Sisters who might or might not be ghosts, and the bad nun herself, who’s played with sneering supernatural-ness by Bonnie Aarons.
A veteran of many wild and wacky roles, Aarons is best-remembered as the terrifying ‘Bum’ (please note: as in American homeless person) in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (in a sequence often listed as one of the most frightening in 2000s cinema), and here she looms about looking suitably evil. And probably trying not to laugh.
It’s hard to find anything here especially creepy, from Aarons’ reptilian eyes, to the business with ‘plague bells’, to the gag stolen outright from Lucio Fulci’s splatter classic City Of The Living Dead, to several sequences where a gaggle of nuns (either from this world or the next) look just about ready to start doing an ‘80s dance routine (Bananarama, anyone?). And yet a sequel is just about guaranteed anyway, so you’d better get used to the idea, and even, perhaps, make it a, um, habit.