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The Nun, even with a panoramic twist, adds little to The Conjuring universe

The horror movie spinoff is one of the first to employ Regal’s new ScreenX experience, but what does it add?

the nun and taissa farmiga Warner Bros. Pictures

Mining a monster’s backstory for material is a tried-and-true strategy for horror franchises. The newest movie in the Conjuring franchise, this week’s The Nun, transports us to 1950s Romania to learn the origin of the creepy nun (Bonnie Aarons) from The Conjuring 2. Investigating the suicide of a sister, Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and prospective nun Irene (Taissa Farmiga) arrive at the deserted convent to judge if the land is still holy. They befriend a local named Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet) who takes them to the convent where sinister things are naturally afoot.

Events mostly unfold as spooky-but-isolated tableaus that never quite converge into a cohesive narrative. For fans of the franchise, the plot will only barely pass for an explanation of the demonic habit-wearing presence. The movie doesn’t manage to add much to the Conjuring mythos other than the sadly under-explored psychic abilities of Sister Irene. For people watching the movie as a stand-alone entry, there are some mild scares but nothing you can’t see in any other Catholic-themed horror.

I was invited by Regal to view the film in their new ScreenX theater, billed as a “panoramic 270-degree cinematic format.” That’s a relatively fancy way of saying the projected aspect ratio occasionally extended to envelop the sides of the theater. The panoramic additions felt similar to 3D — not always present, but sprinkled in at opportune moments.

the nun cross guy Warner Bros. Pictures

It was, all and all, less intrusive than I had expected. The images overlap with the emergency exit signs and theater lighting, a necessity of the retrofitting, and were noticeably more faded than the main screen. It’s immediately clear that nothing of plot-importance can really take place on the sides; they feel more like a garnish on the content, which is for the best. Ping-ponging between the screens, as I did for the first few scenes when they were in use, didn’t particularly help immersion.

The effect worked best when used abstractly. In one scene, Sister Irene rushes into a cemetery to find the source of a ringing bell, knowing that Father Burke has been buried alive and is desperately chiming for rescue. Eventually, the ringing intensifies, and the side walls flash with close-ups of swinging bells. On the main screen, the sister turns and turns just as the audience is drawn to look back and forth, trying to find the right bell. It works, and it’s something that would be impossible on a single screen.

The Nun also featured a number of top-down views that benefited from the side walls, invoking a brief bird’s-eye view perspective. A Vertigo-esque movie about dangling over long drops might do very well in this format.

But for the most part, ScreenX’s additional screens were unremarkable. They neither distracted nor added much to the experience of watching The Nun, which can’t seem to decide if it’s about demons or ghosts or zombies, or if it’s even a horror movie at all — towards the end it half-pivots into action movie territory, like The Mummy with more religious iconography.

The panorama added a dash of novelty to an otherwise passable movie, but I can’t honestly say that either aspects of the experience was strong enough to justify it. The side-screen styling has potential, if deployed purposefully in the right hands. Whether the prospect of filming for three screens instead of one has any appeal to filmmakers or the masses is a come-to-Jesus revelation the movie business will have to have after The Nun comes and goes.