All five of the movies in the extended ‘Conjuring’ universe have been period pieces, but ‘The Nun’ is the first one that – charmingly – feels like it was actually made in a bygone decade. Set in 1952, it’s an atmosphere-drenched salute to the European horror films of the 1960s and ’70s that had characters skulking around ancient catacombs amid profaned religious iconography. There are creepy crypts aplenty and a graveyard with bell-equipped coffins just in case anyone gets buried alive (alas, the transgressive sexuality of the era’s more extreme nunsploitation flicks is off the table).
Soulful-eyed Taissa Farmiga is perfectly cast (though the film doesn’t acknowledge her sisterly connection to ‘Conjuring’ vet Vera) as a young novitiate tasked by the Vatican to join a priest (Demián Bichir) on a fact-finding trip to a remote Romanian abbey. One of the clergywomen there has committed suicide, and the duo is joined in its investigation by a French-Canadian villager (Jonas Bloquet) who discovered the corpse and is handy for comic relief. Supernatural evil is afoot and director Corin Hardy musters effective heebie-jeebies from shadowy figures lurking on the edges of the frame.
In the absence of much plot or character complexity in the script by Gary Dauberman (‘It’ and the ‘Annabelle’ films), Hardy revels in the opportunity to tell the story as a series of eerie set pieces. Until a computer-enhanced finale somewhat deflates things, he wrings chills from carefully crafted cinematography and production design, imaginative staging and creepy locations (some in Transylvania itself) that add to the authenticity. Hardcore genre fans will appreciate visual shout-outs to shriekers like ‘The Exorcist III’ and ‘City of the Living Dead’, while ‘Conjuring’ devotees will enjoy the ‘aha’ moment of a concluding callback that brings the saga full circle.