The Nun

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My mother kicked a nun in the face once. She insists it was an accident and is rather embarassed by the whole ordeal. Some part of me however wishes there was something more at work. Some little bit of rebellion, some nudge against the status quo, against perceived moral superiority. Maybe that kick was against the shackles of hierarchy, against organized religion's ability to pervert the teachings of love into prejudice and unchecked intimidation. Still, she says no and since she is a very religious person, I am inclined to believe her. Oh well, a son can dream.

I have a few friends from past and present who went to Catholic schools. None of them had a very positive story to tell and none of them felt like they were bettered by the conditions. The gals in THE NUN didn't have a great time during their learning years either, thanks mostly to the title character. The main nun at their school ruled with an iron fist. She seemed to believe that it was her job to purify the world of its sins, starting with her pupils. The only way to do that, she believed, was through physical and emotional punishment and torture. Wow, what a peach.

Years later, all the girls from the school have grown up and many have started families of their own. Still, they never talk about what happened during those formative years and each is still haunted by nightmares of their treatment there. Eva (Anita Briem) is the virginal (hence, heroine) daughter of one of the girls. When she arrives home after her graduation party, she sees her mother having her throat cut by a figure clouded by plumes of water. What she can make out is that the figure was wearing a nun's habit.

Eva is informed that her mother was not the first victim. She was supposed to meet up with the surviving students to return to the scene of the crime and find out what's going on. What went on is that the kids did something that the nun obviously didn't appreciate and she has returned in supernatural form to punish their wickedness. As the body count rises, Eva feels a need to solve the mystery herself and that means returning to the now-abandoned boarding school.

THE NUN is one of the final productions from Brian Yuzna's Fantastic Factory. It is based in part on a story idea by Jaume Balaguer:, the man behind DARKNESS and THE NAMELESS as well as the new film FRAGILE (which - surprise, surprise - we're still waiting for in the States). The actual screenplay chores were handled by Manu Diez while the direction is from Luis De La Madrid. Both of these people are newcomers to their respective jobs, but they have a keen eye for what works and deserve some props.

One of the main things THE NUN does so well is combine Asian horror aesthetics - in this case, a demon born of water - and combine it with Spanish religious tradition. It is important to note that despite by comments earlier, THE NUN does not thumb its nose at religion, merely those who distort it. However, it does touch on some very topical issues that have tainted the image of the church as of late. People have reported abuse that bordered on torture in Catholic schools, especially boarding schools overseas. The Church has continued to disavow the abuses documented at orphanages and halfway houses like the Magdalene Laundries (graphically and heart-wrenchingly detailed in THE MAGDALENE SISTERS), despite volumes of sworn testimony and mountains of daming evidence. In the United States, the Church has come under fire as scores of priests have been accused of sexual abuse as church elders have been caught red handed covering up the evidence and placing the offenders in arenas where they would have direct contact with even more children.

Buired, but not too deep, in this story of an evil water wraith, is a damnation of these abuses and the powers that allowed them to continue for so long. At the same time, most notably in the character of Gabriel (Manu Fullola), a monk in training, is also preaches understanding, balance and that the time has now come for a change in the way things are run.

It is also yet another film to use horror's favorite villain of the moment - bad plumbing. We have an angry bathtub in BOOGEYMAN, the ridiculous killer toilets in THE RING TWO, demons in the pipes of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and the dark water of... well, DARK WATER. What separates THE NUN is that the water makes up an important component of the antagonist. I'm thankful that THE NUN has the good graces to do some interesting things with it's liquified evil, rather than focus on dripping faucets for 100 minutes.

There are some parts of the film that lean towards the predictable. We figure out what happened to the nun to make her so p.o.'ed long before Eva, even if we don't know the reasons why. Oddly enough however, while the main points of the film are a bit predictable, other revelations late in the film are unexpected.. There were a great many sidetracks the film takes that may come as no surprise to the truly jaded horror fan. However, the choices were so out of left field in the context of the piece, it was a surprise. It's a testament to the film's fine pacing that even these double-take moments work in the finished film.

Like all Fantastic Factory films, the cast is international and not always up to snuff. Briem is very good in the lead. However, some of the grown women being stalked by the nun are not convincing. They seem to be wrestling with the material to a degree that prevents them from truly inhabiting their characters.

Still, THE NUN is mostly a success. It has a solid story combined with the nice polish the Factory gave to its productions. It is going to look a lot better than you expect it to and could in fact hold its own against any of the effects-laden theatrical horror films.

Religious-themed pictured have gained sway recently. People who have taken THE DA VINCI CODE way too seriously are causing all sane people to chuckle while those who got way too much inspiration from the two hour torture show, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST make us squirm. For horror fans, THE NUN is a decent film with some religious themes that slips under the radar enough to certainly avoid creating any hysteria. And really, thank God for that. As it stands, THE NUN may not be reason enough to believe in a higher power. But for the day to day grind of finding a good horror film, it will do and it will do nicely.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis