Life is sweet when watching a horror movie counts as research. It’d be sweeter, of course, if a university paid for it, nevertheless, I went to see The Nun on its opening weekend. My wife gamely went with me (no sponsor was paying for this) on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Now, if you haven’t been following The Conjuring universe, you might not know about The Nun. The full story will be revealed in Nightmares with the Bible, which is coming along nicely. Suffice it to say it’s a movie about a haunted convent in Romania. Those who know the Dracula tradition will perk up at the mention of the location. The scenery is quite lovely in a horror genre kind of way. And it also has ties to The Conjuring diegesis that bring the story full circle.
Ghostly nuns, it turns out, can be scary. Religion, after all, involves coercion and threat as well as love and salvation. Sister Irene, the protagonist, is a novice nun sent on a mission to investigate said convent. The film reveals both an awareness of religious motivation and a seeming lack of research regarding monastic life. Sister Irene, for example, tells the students at her school that the Bible isn’t to be taken literally. It’s “God love letter to humanity.” Well, parts of it are. Still, the struggle with biblical literalism is a present-day issue that the movie addresses head on. It was difficult to believe, on the other hand, that even a novice would walk into a chapel where someone is praying and call out “Hello?”. Many years at Nashotah House taught me something.
Cloistered environments, although not part of most people’s experience, are great locations for horror. For example, the first night she spends in the monastery Irene is told that the great silence is observed until dawn. Did I mention that in chapel no one can hear you scream? There’s an element about that in actual cloistered life. The discipline of secrecy is heavy and full of threat. We spent a great many silent days at Nashotah House and the sense of violation as sin was heavy indeed. The part that truly stood out, however, was where the nuns used their only recourse against evil; they had to pray. In the world of action movies, striking out with whatever is at hand is the expected response. Spiritual entities, although the film does relent, can’t be touched except with spiritual threats. The praying nuns looked so helpless in the presence of a demon.
There were less than a dozen people in the theater. The Nun may not be a runaway hit. The devoted will see it, however, and some of us will include it in our working life as a kind of spiritual exercise.