Horror Franchise The Conjuring is going Gothic for prequel movie The Nun. ian Berriman speaks to director corin Hardy and star taissa farmiga
Have you said your prayers? Maybe it’s time you did. The Conjuring saga gets a spine-rattling prequel. Heaven preserve us.
Not often can it be claimed, with any degree of conviction, that the fifth in a horror franchise is bringing something new to the table. But that genuinely does seem to be the case as The Conjuring returns not with a bang but, ahem, with a wimple.
fans of this horror universe have already met The Nun’s titular nasty, introduced in 2016’s The Conjuring 2. in the 1977-set film, paranormal investigator ed Warren was inspired to paint a sinister nun from his nightmares. He and wife Lorraine realised that this demon, named Valak, was orchestrating the events of the infamous enfield Haunting.
at that time, Lorraine Warren speculated that the demon had “taken a blasphemous form to attack my faith”. But there’s clearly more to it than that, as this prequel turns the clock back a quarter of a century to 1952, sending Bonnie aarons’s yellow-eyed nun skulking around the candlelit corridors of a medieval abbey in the mountains of Romania. Brit corin Hardy, who previously wrangled monstrous faeries for 2015’s The Hallow, is in the director’s chair.
“When i read the script, what stood out was
“When i read the script, what stood out was that the story was a little bit different,” Hardy tells SFX. “it was more of a mystery/adventure film that had an investigation aspect. normally a family get haunted and the investigators turn up. With this, it was following the investigators on the mission, which felt new and fresh. So you have father Burke, a gruff, experienced exorcist [Demián Bichir], and a nun in training. they’re sent over to Romania, and team up with a farmhand called frenchie, who discovered a body at the abbey, and takes them to assess whether the grounds are still holy.”
nun so good
taissa farmiga plays the good-natured Sister irene, a novitiate whom it appears the Vatican have good reason to task with this assignment.
“Sister irene had a troubled childhood, dealing with these visions,” farmiga explains. “Her parents didn’t know whether they were real or if she had some sort of mental disorder, and the church took her in.”
So as well as investigating this mysterious suicide, the young novice is also in search of answers for herself.
“She trusts in the Lord with everything she has,” farmiga says, “but there’s a small part of her that is a question mark. So part of it for her is that she’s trying to find closure on the question that’s been plaguing her for her whole life: who sends these visions? Why is she chosen to have these visions? So while she’s always quick to help, i think there might be a bit of a selfish motivation as well.”
Quick-minded readers will have twigged that taissa farmiga is the younger sister of Vera farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren in this series. that’s not the result of some grand design; indeed, by the sound of it, it led to a little hesitancy on Hardy’s part. Well, you don’t want to look like you can’t think further than one family, do you?
“originally we were looking at casting an english actress,” the director reveals, “But taissa was so good i couldn’t not cast her. My concern was, if i cast her is it going to be, ‘oh, it’s the easy option’, but it wasn’t! She’s so right for the role, she possesses something extraordinary.”
for her part, farmiga – who was actually with her sister when she was sent the lines for the audition by her agent – was a little surprised to win the part.
“Vera was like, ‘oh, that’s funny! You should go audition and see what happens!’ to be honest, i thought, ‘oh, it’s going to be weird if they cast me’, because of the physical appearances.”
although it wasn’t a factor in the final decision, casting an actress who bears a strong resemblance to another of the franchise’s leads does obviously add an extra dimension.
“they look very similar,” Hardy agrees, “and when you’re watching the edit back you’re like, ‘oh my god!’ Whether there’s any connections to any other films... you’ll have to wait and see.”
taissa is a little more forthcoming when asked if they played on the family resemblance. “Y’know, i’m not sure what they’re going to do in editing! We filmed a few things, and we’ll have to see what makes it into the final cut.”
could Valak have latched onto the Warrens because Sister irene and Lorraine Warren are
sister irene trusts in the lord, but there’s a small part of her that’s a question mark
related? or is there some other link about to emerge? Perhaps there is territory here which could be fruitfully explored in a sequel. for now, we can only speculate.
What we do know for certain is that father Burke and Sister irene’s investigative quest provided the director with a larger canvas to paint on, one which lends the film a different aesthetic from the other entries.
“it’s not set in a town or a family’s house,” Hardy points out, “it’s set in the wilds of Romania in a huge, ancient castle, and other old buildings, with lots of rich atmosphere – light and shadows.”
KEEP THE FAITH
often with a film like this, the search for tax breaks can lead to one european country standing in for another, but The Nun was shot in the nation where it’s set, with Hardy’s team exploring a landscape that’s surely on the bucket list of every horror director: the central Romanian region of transylvania.
“it was very exciting!” the director enthuses. “We filmed in the People’s Palace [the Romanian Parliament building] – that was our Vatican. and we utilised the journey from Bucharest up to Hunedoara, about seven miles north into transylvania. We went through some incredible Romanian villages; it really felt like stepping back in time as you drove up, and you saw, y’know, young men sitting on the top of horse-drawn carts delivering milk.”
it must, we suggest, have felt like being inside an old Hammer film. Well, except that it
didn’t look like you were actually in a country park in Buckinghamshire…
“Yeah, definitely,” Hardy says. “Dracula is, for sure, an inspiration for this movie, and it did feel like we were all on that journey – creating cemeteries full of fog and castles with heavy stone walls and candlelight. and castle corvin, which is up in Hunedoara, is not that far from the castle that Dracula was based on, castle Bran.”
as well as Bram Stoker’s gothic vampire tale, the director also thinks the film has echoes of other classics.
“it was very much the producers’ intention to start going off the beaten path a little more with this movie and make something a bit more classical,” Hardy explains. “it was apparent when i read the script that there’s a nice
balance of classic horror: The Exorcist, The Name Of The Rose, Temple Of Doom, Black
Narcissus... Some italian horror sprung to mind – Dario argento, partly in how i wanted to translate it visually. it felt like a bit of a mixing pot of those movies.”
for the film’s female lead, filming at such imposing ancient locations made it much easier to place herself in the right headspace.
“anything you think of when you think of transylvania, it’s true!” farmiga says. “it’s just as authentic in person; that gothic, ominous feel. i mean, the people are a little bit happier than you’d expect! But it’s there. You go in these castles and you can just breathe the history. i think that’s so important when you’re filming, because you can’t fake that. it was funny: while we were filming at castle corvin, they also had tourists coming through, so if i needed a break from the horror i could step outside and see everybody in their visors and flip flops! But you step in the next room and feel you’re transported back in time. that was a phenomenal experience.”
Hardy is confident that the result is a film that’ll appeal to general horror fans as well as those who’ve caught every previous entry.
“i love the kind of horror which i grew up on in the ’70s and ’80s – grounded horror, with a visual flair and imagination behind it,” Hardy says. “if you’re a diehard Conjuring fan then we definitely tried to make something that’s a bit different from what you’ve had before. Hopefully you’re going to enjoy and embrace that, but not feel too far from home at the same time, and have an exciting, thrilling ride.”
Director Corin Hardy with young star Taissa Farmiga.
Filming took place in Castle Corvin in Transylvania.
We would say look behind you, but we doubt it would help.