There is, perhaps, nothing creepier than an evil nun. Her habit already makes her look otherworldly, hiding her body and framing just her face. So to know that something not-so-holy lurks within? That’s just outright scary. It explains why The Conjuring universe is making way for its “darkest chapter yet” with a film that’s all about said terrifying character: The Nun. Directed by Corin Hardy, the film opens with an unspeakable and seemingly inexplicable occurrence. A nun has committed suicide in a cloistered abbey in Romania, and the Vatican has sent Father Burke (Demián Bichir) alongside Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate whether the grounds of the convent remain holy. Needless to say, these two saintly figures come up against an evil they could never have anticipated, one which fans of The Conjuring 2 will recognize as the demon nun Valak.
The Nun marks Bichir’s latest attempt at tackling every genre you’ve ever loved. At this point, the Academy Award nominee has far outgrown his telenovela roots, conquered cable drama TV, and made sure you saw three-dimensional Mexican and Mexican-American characters on the big screen. As Father Burke, he gets to use his rugged looks for good. Literally. Hardy had first seen Bichir in Steven Soderbergh’s Che, where the Mexican actor played Fidel Castro (“This guy is committed!” he remembers thinking) and more recently had seen him shine in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. He knew he’d be perfect for Father Burke. He knew he needed someone who could bring gravitas and experience to the role. “I wanted him to be the Dirty Harry of exorcists,” he shared, so as to make his pairing with a novitiate nun all the more jarring.
But as Bichir, Farmiga, and Hardy made clear in discussions about the film, this horror story may be full of jump scares in gothic-looking abbeys, fog-ridden cemeteries, and dark catacombs but it firmly offers an optimistic take on the power of one’s faith. “That’s one of the things that I love about the script,” Bichir said. “This is about faith. This is the most powerful tool that human beings have. That’s the key part of our existence. This is how we endure this fight. Because we believe. Because we have faith.”
It’s evident that Bichir is partly talking about the movie. The fight between Father Burke and this unholy nun is truly an Exorcist meets Indiana Jones-like feud. But he’s also partly talking about a larger, more pressing fight happening off-screen. The message of having faith, in ourselves, in our goodness, so as to fend off the horrific forces that threaten our daily lives is more than mere metaphor for Bichir. It’s a call to arms for those facing unspeakable horror from those in power, even those that may carry themselves in habits that make them look holy and good.
“There’s an evil, a horror, that’s out there—that’s everywhere! These are horror stories that are our daily lives and we’re fed up with it,” Bichir added, silently invoking a current political climate that very well plays like a horror movie in real life, winking at the unnamed villain that hovers over every new release in 2018.
But lest The Nun feel like a mere distraction or abstraction, Bichir emphasizes that the movie’s hopeful tone aims to resonate with those leaving the theater. “This is a perfect time for us to understand that you cannot get defeated by that. You have to stand up! Let your voice be heard.”
The Nun opens in theaters on September 7, 2018.