For a re­view of “The Nun,”

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Step aside, “Hal­loween.” For­get it, “Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv- ity.” Nice try, “Scream.” “The Con­jur­ing” fran­chise (or the “Con­jur­ing Cin­e­matic Uni­verse,” the “CCU”) has steadily be­come the most de­pend­able hor­ror film fran­chise of late, con­quer­ing the box of­fice with good old-fash­ioned and flaw­lessly ex­e­cuted spooks and scares, with a few in­ter­est­ing ideas to boot.

Spin­ning off James Wan’s 2013 “The Con­jur­ing,” about real-life mar­ried ghost hun­ters Ed and Lor­raine War­ren, the fran­chise started with true tales of haunt­ings, pos­ses­sions and spec­tral in­va­sions. But there were so many side sto­ries and creepy char­ac­ters that both “The Con­jur­ing” and “The Con­jur­ing 2” well, con­jured up, that more movies were nec­es­sary. There have been two films about Annabelle, the creepi­est porce­lain doll ever. And now “The Nun” takes on the back­story of the im­pos­ing de­mon in a habit that ter­ror­ized Lor­raine’s vi­sions.

In this spinoff, di­rec­tor Corin Hardy de­liv­ers a ’70s throw­back gothic hor­ror epic. Writ­ten by “Annabelle” screen­writer Gary Dauber­man and James Wan, it’s lush, op­er­atic, hard­core Catholic hor­ror from the depths of “The Omen” and “The Ex­or­cist,” with hints of Michael Pow­ell and Emeric Press­burger’s “Black Nar­cis­sus,” washed with me­dieval over­tones. And it’s a to­tal, scream­ing blast.

Demián Bichir is per­fectly cast as Fa­ther Burke, a re­luc­tant priest tasked by the Vat­i­can to in­ves­ti­gate un­usual re­li­gious phe­nom­ena, or as they call it, “mir­a­cle hunt­ing” (he ex­udes shades of Ja­son Miller in “The Ex­or­cist”). Af­ter young de­liv­ery­man Frenchie (Jonas Blo­quet) dis­cov­ers the hanged body of a nun at a clois­tered Ro­ma­nian abbey, Burke is sent to in­ves­ti­gate the sui­cide. He is asked to bring along a young novi­tiate, Sis­ter Irene (Taissa Farmiga), for her fa­mil­iar­ity with “the ter­ri­tory” (she’s never been to Ro­ma­nia).

The peo­ple of the vil­lage claim the abbey is cursed, bring­ing a plague upon their houses, and the woods are lit­tered with pro­tec­tive crosses. Once the trio ar­rives, they dis­cover it’s not as bad as they ex­pect — it’s worse. The place is a mouth to hell, guarded by ter­ri­fied nuns who par­tic­i­pate in per­pet­ual ado­ra­tion and prayer to keep the demons at bay, though they aren’t do­ing all that great a job of it.

Burke must rely on his deep re­li­gious his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge, while Irene puts her psy­chic abil­i­ties and vi­sions to use in com­bat­ting the an­cient evil. Frenchie is the au­di­ence sur­ro­gate, agape at the sur­real hor­rors un­fold­ing within the abbey’s walls, us­ing good old-fash­ioned fire­power as his pro­tec­tion.

French hor­ror cin­e­matog­ra­pher Maxime Alexan­dre is well-versed in the vis­ual lan­guage of the CCU — the slow cam­era move­ments, pushes and pulls that build ten­sion, and slow pans that mimic hu­man vi­sion, look­ing away then back to re­veal some de­mon lurk­ing in the shad­ows. The cam­era chases and cir­cles elu­sive crea­tures, catch­ing glimpses but never quite find­ing any­thing be­fore some hellish doom looms out of the dark.

De­spite the sump­tu­ous im­agery and sound de­sign en­hanced with Gre­go­rian chants and de­spite the ex­cel­lent per­for­mances (par­tic­u­larly Farmiga as the steely but vul­ner­a­ble lit­tle nun), “The Nun” fails to ex­e­cute one el­e­ment: the ques­tion of faith. The fran­chise, with its point-of-view cam­era work and themes of psy­chic vi­sions, has al­ways pushed the bound­aries on “see­ing is be­liev­ing,” and hav­ing a lit­tle faith in the things you can see that oth­ers can’t. In a re­li­gious set­ting, where prayer keeps demons at bay, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the idea fur­ther, but “The Nun” stays on the sur­face. The sur­face may be omi­nous, richly tex­tured and mor­bidly fas­ci­nat­ing, but sto­ry­wise, it re­mains shal­low.

“The Nun,” a Warner Bros. Pic­ture re­lease, is rated R for ter­ror, vi­o­lence, and dis­turb­ing/bloody images. Run­ning time: 96 min­utes. ★★½

“God Bless the Bro­ken Road”

The grow­ing faith-based film in­dus­try is on a quest for con­tent: sto­ries that will con­nect with au­di­ences, or draw pre-ex­ist­ing ones. Mostly, the con­tent has come in the form of true sto­ries, from the Bi­ble, med­i­cal mir­a­cles or vi­sions of Je­sus. There are the po­lit­i­cal fic­tions built on straw man ar­gu­ments (the “God’s Not Dead” fran­chise). Now, there’s the “in­spired by a coun­try song” sub­genre.

“I Can Only Imag­ine,” based on the Mer­cyMe smash hit, was a box of­fice hit. The film’s plot chron­i­cles the life events that in­spired lead singer Bart Mil­lard to pen the wildly pop­u­lar song’s lyrics. And now there’s “God Bless the Bro­ken Road,” di­rected by Harold Cronk, di­rec­tor of “God’s Not Dead” and the up­com­ing “Un­bro­ken: Path to Re­demp­tion.” The film is based on the Ras­cal Flatts song “Bless the Bro­ken Road” and com­bines NAS­CAR and the war in Afghanistan to craft a story con­nected to the song by the thinnest of threads.

Lind­say Pul­sipher stars as Am­ber, a widow with a young daugh­ter, Bree (Maken­zie Moss), who loses her faith when her hus­band is killed in Afghanistan. Two years af­ter his death, her house on the verge of fore­clo­sure, she’s strug­gling to make ends meet while wait­ing ta­bles at the lo­cal diner. Am­ber’s lost her con­nec­tion with church, and with God. But she catches the eye of a hand­some stranger, Cody (An­drew W. Walker), a bad boy NAS­CAR driver who rolls into town af­ter a crash, forced by his coach to do some small-town com­mu­nity ser­vice. Nat­u­rally, he starts teaching the youth of the lo­cal church, in­clud­ing Bree, how to build their own gokarts, while woo­ing the griev­ing Am­ber.

The en­tire con­flict is all a bit strained — the denizens of the small town seem­ingly straight from the 1950s are all aw­fully judg­men­tal of the young pair. Ap­par­ently Cody is a bad guy be­cause he crashes a lot — isn’t that what they do in NAS­CAR? Fur­ther­more, there isn’t a shred of char­ity shown to­ward war widow Am­ber, who has to pawn her en­gage­ment ring to make house pay­ments. Ev­ery­one shows ter­ri­ble judg­ment all around, ex­cept for her friends from church (Robin Givens and Jordin Sparks) who have the good sense to show up with a ziti ev­ery now and then and find her a new home.

“God Bless the Bro­ken Road” is a very strange Franken­stein’s mon­ster of a film, the story try­ing to com­bine too many el­e­ments while re­verse-en­gi­neered into in­cor­po­rat­ing the ti­tle of a pop­u­lar coun­try song. It is un­clear what any­thing in the movie has to do with Ras­cal Flatts or the song, ex­cept that Am­ber sings it at the end in her tri­umphant re­turn to church, af­ter her many cometo-Je­sus mo­ments: los­ing her home, her daugh­ter run­ning away on a go-kart and go­ing to live with her judg­men­tal, multi-level-mar­ket­ing-shilling mother-in-law, find­ing out the story of her hus­band’s death from his Army pal, a cli­matic NAS­CAR race wherein her new boyfriend drives a com­mem­o­ra­tive car decked out in pink cam­ou­flage and ea­gles.

What “God Bless the Bro­ken Road” does have go­ing for it is a bet­ter-than-ex­pected per­for­mance by Pul­sipher, who plays the win­some but bro­ken woman with a deep sense of sen­si­tiv­ity. At the cen­ter, she holds to­gether this hodge­podge of ran­dom story el­e­ments that oth­er­wise don’t make much sense to­gether at all.

“God Bless The Bro­ken Road,” a Freestyle re­lease, is rated PG for the­matic el­e­ments and some com­bat ac­tion. Run­ning time: 111 min­utes. ★½


An­drew W. Walker plays a race­car driver and Lind­say Pul­sipher an over­worked young widow in “God Bless the Bro­ken Road,” a faith-based drama open­ing today.

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