Rev., Apr 4, 2019.
This is part 2, of a two-part treatment of the opening sections of The Nun (2018).
After Sr. Irene’s walk in the field of crosses, now it is time for Fr Burke to be indoctrinated by having his dreams upset. Same night, he is now in the convent, a building adjunct to the abbey, so we are literally in adjunct space, it is not just a concoction of my model. It starts with a radio that goes on by itself, as is so common, even back then, media records the scare first.
he identifies the source, the instant his light hits it, it goes out
then he is lead by his personal guilt demon, Daniel, a boy he tried to exorcise, which failed, killing him, through the laundry room, hung with all sorts of bed sheets, a very old trope space, really surprising to see it here.
the movie is playing with things very carefully if it thinks that in order to take us back out into the field of crosses, and the cemetery, it needs to transition from his side too, from his bed to the crosses, so it takes us all the way through this zone. The field of sheets is a classic push-pull now-you-see-it-now-you don’t zone at the edge of the entoptic, for the field is entoptic in nature, but heading toward the glass onion, because it is always to see a figure in it (I have written about this with respect to Halloween (1978), then The Creeping Terror (1964) and Friday the 13th: The Orphan (1970)). It is a trope of some age, indeed
then things get interesting again. At one point, going out, Burke feels someone tap him on the shoulder, the left one, I think, then he spies out deep into the cross field and sees a figure way at the other end, barely discernible in shot
a figure sighted at the far periphery of the visuality of the Land of Nod is a conjure figure. It comes out of the corner of the eye, as the first inkling one has that there is a haunting here. It serves precisely this purpose here, so Burke is getting a more conventional haunting, transporting him entirely and structurally back into the field of crosses as they spread back around through the entoptic to the in-between.
the search for a conjure figure is always much more difficult, it wouldn’t be a conjure figure if you had no trouble figuring out what it is, or even if it is there, there will be white out moments.
And almost blackout moments, it is in the influence of the strobe effect which strikes the entoptic as well
but then we come to another homegrown targeted haunting, just for him. First, though, he sees the conjure figure close-up, and, then, once again, the movie overdetermines, by imprinting onto the appearance of a snake out of its mouth a whoosh-splat structure exactly echoing the same effect used to knock Frenchie on his butt before, and we get, even with the backup of an alibi formation statue, the boy, the snake and then its jump scare attack to us, in our face.
this then causes Burke to fall, so a classic whoosh-to-splat, the work of ephialtes, the leaper
but then with a quick splatting that almost kerplunks as it is a grave, he is then slammed into it, it slams shut, nearly a slapstick treatment
Then the camera comes up to tell us it is his grave, chosen for him, so this too is a spell
then he is stuck. This too strikes me as too precipitous, that is, exploiting the structural scare by echolating upon its lattice a miniature rendering of it, which did not, for having that quality packed into it, really scare that much (with many precedents as a trope in countless movies).
Then, two dream sequences are woven together, because now Sr. Irene must be woken up that first night for her to get her induction into the reality that they are dealing with, unmistakably, a haunted world, and yet at this point, she is fast asleep. She is pictured lying on her right side, looking away from the event out on the grounds, but in a shot cast to its side to make her vertical on the left, to represent that we are bouncing out of nightmare into a lateral adjunct space (I noted this in the movie Truth or dare (2017)). That light off to her side, if it was in proper orientation, would be the High Light, it is an expression of the impression of a blue dot on the sleeping mind in the entoptic state, and alerts you to a trouble, it signifies that she is sleeping lightly indeed, and that, for that, she is susceptible to being woken up if something in the world around her flashes at her. This shot then evokes the High Light, the light of too much consciousness still, which will interrupt her sleep; but here it represents the presence of the Ambient or Sentient zones lurking outside the dream.
Just like when you fear a monster is there, the curtain pulls back, the light shines on her directly, she opens her eyes, she is alerted, there is trouble.
once again (too much of this) the movie feels it needs to underline the point by doubling up on it, her brain is awake, it has received the symbol, and in a form, a lantern, that will take her walking
she now does a gown prowl and in doing so casting light on aegis pictures of mother superiors and the like around it is autosuggested by these iamata that she will be seeing her haunting in the form of nuns. (iamata are testimonials at an incubation site in ancient Greece from others coming before that they had success in their incubation, you would read a bunch of them beforehand to autosuggest to you that it can be good for you too), so, here, these pictures serve this function, moving down into and through the glass onion (symbolic) stage.
But, somehow, she feels that the haunting is coming from outside, so she goes out, then pauses at the top of the stairs. In the movie Nomads (1986), in which Brosnan plays a demon hunter, a nun gazing down the stairs in a vacant convent evoking the whoosh below is the caretaker, the one to lead us in, down, she assumes that role, partly, here.
this is reinforced by the fact that the movie pulls the camera back to a distant shot of her at the top of their stairs and this is such a classic Hammer style shot it announces that her gown prowl is elementary, I even saw it copied in Bollywood movies influenced by Hammer, so it speaks to the fact that she is now the one to head down into the belly of the beast.
But just before she does there is, back up in the house, a screenwipe
the demon is up, already haunting her, so she is walking into a trap. The haunting in this sequence is a lot like, and as franchises are often held together by the repetition of their signature elements, a haunting sequence in The Conjuring 2 (2017). In that one, Lorraine is in Ed’s studio, and has a creepy interaction with his painting, in a premonition. of something haunting her, a nun
then she sees a shadow exit one of his more scenic pictures, and walk across the wall
it then passes into the picture of it
to then take shape according to the scale Ed painted her at, the coat and hat acting as alibi formation
the closing of two dimensional space on the shadow space in three dimensional space, allows the image to come forward, ontologically, from being in the picture, to being in the room. This is then jumped further by the movie to allow it to take figure, and the mask turns into an impersonation, held by the hands of the realizing nun ghost
that then feeds off the model of the coats and figure, to urge it to take on fuller figurative form, it is as if at this point the figure in the shadow, given substance by canvas and paint, is now ready to use that hiding mask to figure itself out into three dimensional reality.
behind that barrier, but pushing it at her, this allows her to become embodied, and attack, in a classic whoosh to inyourface
this is what I call picture play, the haunting in this downstairs chapel space is similar, clearly aligned with the franchise-defining trope at the moment. In it, she thinks she interrupts the nuns having a prayer session after hours. In the lore of movies, interrupting nuns having an after hours prayer session is a deeply moving thing because the nuns are not living according to the rules of time as managed in secular society but have duties vectored to pay attention to supernatural issues, that, in itself, is mysterious, just like Hayley Mills assuming this view in The Trouble with Angels (1964).
but right away a shadow rises up over the cross
to then eclipse the cross, this then the realization of the negation of the cross she felt earlier, now it is real
then a bit of ambient red light touches the shadow and as if one two d form touches another it creates a plane of passage whereby the shadow is now activated in light-casting space so that it can walk out of the eclipse formation and stroll spookily around the walls.
as it walks, it is never far from an alibi form, so that she might think to herself, what are you looking at? it is only the angel giving off a vibe, not a shadow walking around the wall
then it comes all the way round near her, through a confessional, it looks like, to continue on
then it has come all the way to behind her back, in a mirror that was behind her (this a bit like the night mirror), and she now sees that the shadow is a real being in the other-side-of-the-mirror space, in this splicing of spaces
then it makes itself known, her, whether in or out of the mirror problematic
she is freaked out, so she turns around and sees that all the nuns she thought were praying are gone, it was just an illusion, part of the haunting by the nun, making herself seem more plausible as part of a group of nuns. At this point, the attack comes, the mirror breaks out, so this is an acheirodiptheriac picture, that is, a killing picture, as I posited years ago, but she stands
it is the cross that falls, smashing to pieces, she runs
so, she has come out from the entoptic space of her rooms, and the convent, this then made of her the caretaker, guide from the lattice lower but in this case it is entoptic-through glass onion-to-lattice movement, where, in adjunct space, she comes upon a phantom group of nuns praying. But this turns out to be an illusion created by an ambient haunting demon who now ritualistically walks it back to find a mirror behind her back by which to spray glass in a whoosh at her, and chase her on. The fact that the demon failed by this haunting to kill her makes it somewhat questionable in its agency. The other fact, that in fact this scare caused her to run on and find Burke, makes its agency doubly conflicting in itself, as why would the demon do something that undoes its work on Burke? but it is the signature scare of the franchise and in this repeat of it we understand how deeply she is haunted by it, because it got Lorrraine too.
in any case, now she is out in the cemetery, and, once again, for the fourth time, we are out amongst the field of crosses, which create the no man’s land between the country and the abbey, and she is now searching for some answer that she believes the haunting has pointed her toward
her search for whatever it is, she is uncertain, is made more complicated by the fact that all the bells on all the graves begin to ring as if a whole legion of zombies now in this spell wants to get up out of their graves and walk the earth
but, then, once again, things shift to the ambient, as after a point the bells en masse collect into a larger acoustic hallucination that she likens to one of her visions when young so it makes her dizzy, and she closes her eyes, and all but has another hypnagogic trance incident, much like her visions when young, she is woozy (notice the bell)
then, very oddly, as if the sound has taken the red light from the chapel and fed it into the ambience of the air to turn it into a physical force that presses on the right side of her face, to distort her face, she feels the dream impinge upon her
I sensed, uncannily, that almost, for a moment, the pressure of the vision pressed in on her so intently it distorted her face so that I did not recognize her and though she had turned into someone else, but, then, the vision is, she can hear through all the interfering bell ringing to focus on and find the one that Burke is under, and save him.
then we have the whole sequence of taking him up out of the grave, she saving his life
then, for me, another conflicting moment, because something that the demon did to hurt her ended up helping her find him and undo what the same demon had done to hurt him, and not it turns out that the demon did something bad to him, but it helped him find books, it is as if the demon is so conflicted or incompetent that he manages to undo everything he has done in the next haunting much like Penelope undoing the tapestry every night, it is strange, and kind of depletes the agency and energy of the movie, as you really do have to wonder how in control of the demon game this demon is.
At last, then, we are ushered into the heart of the story, which is, the discovery of what is behind that door we saw in the prologue, but that for another report. As is, it means that this movie has a very long introductory passage, as if to emphasize the intercessional nature of this outing, a horror movie about believing in the world one is inducted into; and, yet, somehow, in that process often working to deplete the power of the demon it means to give power to in the whole proceedings. The length of these sequences suggests to me a rationalizing tendency in the writing which felt it somehow needed to explain more than was necessary why the franchise was retrenching all the way back to 1952 to explain why the demon that haunts Lorraine was a nun, and who that nun was, for that, it needed to take its time setting things up (since I also found a highly intercessional leaning in Neo Rauch’s latest show in Hong Kong, with a long introductory, initiatory sequence, this might be, in fact, part of the nature of the times, a needing for works of art and movies to wriggle to find their bearing before getting down to business too). Indeed, it is the uncertainty in managing the demon and its power in this one which significantly distinguishes it from Hereditary (2018), where things were much more forcefully directed. In the follow-up to this I will examine the too pat treatment of the movie in the final solution, laid out, described, then found, too quickly, and too concisively, to make the finale grand.