Small details you missed in The Nun

The Nun is a big step forward for The Conjuring franchise, giving the shared universe of horror films its biggest debut weekend yet. The third sub-series within the expanded universe after The Conjuring and Annabelle movies, The Nun works harder than any of its predecessors to establish connections to the films that came before it. Whether it's a visual reference to a past movie, the conclusion of a series-long plot, or the presence of the demon Valak's name all over the place, the movie has plenty to offer for eagle-eyed viewers looking for clues about how everything connects. 

With The Nun being such a loud, clattering horror movie, seemingly designed to make audiences watch it from behind their fingers, people might miss plenty of little things on their first pass through. But though the movie may be the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster, there's a little bit of depth behind the scary moments, if you're brave enough to keep your eyes glued to the screen. From the connections to the Annabelle and Conjuring movies to the finer aspects of the title demon's scare tactics, here are some of the small details you might have missed in The Nun.

Original creation

The Nun is the fifth entry in the expanding film universe of The Conjuring, and it asserts itself within that continuity in a variety of ways. The first "shared universe" card the movie plays is during the opening sequence, focusing on the doomed Sisters Jessica and Victoria. When the two nuns encounter Valak in the catacombs of the St. Cartas abbey, Victoria flees as the other Sister is pulled into the darkness. It's later revealed that these two characters are the last surviving nuns in St. Cartas, leaving Valak determined to possess one of their bodies so it can move out into the world beyond the abbey's walls. Unwilling to let that happen, Sister Victoria prepares to commit the sin of suicide, throwing herself from a window and denying the demon the chance to take her over.

As Victoria prays for forgiveness for the sin she's about to commit, Valak approaches from behind her in the guise of a demonic nun, the candles of the hallway being snuffed out as it moves closer to Victoria. This shot is an almost perfect recreation of the post-credits scene of Annabelle: Creation, the immediately preceding entry in The Conjuring universe which teased the demon nun spinoff in 2017. 

Curiously, The Nun lacks a similar post-credits sequence; for one reason or another, it looks like the series' producers don't want to give people any hints of what's to come before their next spinoff, The Crooked Man.

Y'all belong to me

After Father Burke and Sister Irene arrive at the isolated Romanian abbey for an uncomfortable overnight stay, their sleep is interrupted by Valak, who is apparently a very petty and bothersome demon. 

Instead of taking the strategic move of, oh, attacking, killing, and possessing one of the two new visitors to the abbey immediately, striking them both unawares before they've even had a chance to consider the scope of the evil forces they're contending with, Valak instead chooses to be a nuisance. The demon wakes Burke up in the middle of the night by blaring the radio in another room, and the song choice is somewhat telling of the demon's cheeky nature. Instead of blasting static or the programming of some local Romanian station, Valak takes care to play a song with a message. 

Specifically, the radio that interrupts Burke's slumber is playing Jo Stafford's version of the tune "You Belong to Me," which means exactly what it looks like it means, with lyrics that include the lines "Remember darling, 'til you're home again / That you belong to me…" Real subtle, that Valak character. What a kooky devil.

Precious memories

The second big expanded universe connection that The Nun serves up is a photograph visible during Burke and Irene's dinner during their first night in the abbey. Visible in the background, the photograph was originally referenced by Sister Charlotte in 2017's Annabelle: Creation, which chronologically takes place three years after the events of The Nun

The snapshot shows Sister Charlotte alongside three nuns of the cloister, whom she says she became very close to at some point in the past. Those relationships aren't really built on in The Nun, since by the time Irene and Burke arrive at the abbey in 1952, every one of the nuns Charlotte knew is presumably dead. 

Considering what we learn during the events of The Nun, it's almost a little jarring to see the Sisters there ever having a moment of levity. From what we learn about the location, the nuns of the abbey have been consistently praying to keep a monstrous devil from entering the world for literally hundreds of years, with the worst of the demonic activity having picked up in the years following World War II. 

With the abbey essentially being a front line in a spiritual battle against actual monsters from Hell, it's hard to see how anyone could ever be so relaxed on the grounds. Does Charlotte in 1955 even know her friends are long dead, or that they gave their lives for such important work? It doesn't seem that way. She seems to have no idea how lucky she is.

What's your name?

Five movies into the series, it seems that the supernatural world of The Conjuring extends far beyond individual haunted locations. To a certain extent, the entire world is haunted  — you just have to know how to read the signs.

In The Nun, supernatural activity is at work before Father Burke and Sister Irene ever arrive at the abbey, though it's all rather subtle — to the characters and audience both. One of the darker omens that appears before things really get going takes place in the village outside of the abbey, where we learn that Valak's corrupting influence can be felt among the populace. 

As Burke and Irene prepare to embark for the abbey with their local guide Maurice, Burke accidentally places his bags in the back of an unrelated truck. It's a humorous moment, save for one odd thing: the vehicle's license plate. Aside from a few junk letters and numbers breaking up the sequence, the plate for the most part reads "VALAK." Why? Who knows — the demon's presence simply seems to make its name appear, and the license plate isn't the only place in the movie where it happens, either. 

The name can also be partially seen in Irene's introductory scene, spelled out backwards and vertically on some of the classroom's educational wall art. It's worth noting that Valak's presence did the same thing in The Conjuring 2. The demon's name is its biggest weakness, but Valak can't stop spilling the beans.

Pazuzu moves

The Nun owes a lot to The Exorcist. Thanks to that classic horror movie, the audience doesn't need to be given an explainer regarding how Catholic priests are capable of performing exorcisms, or that crucifixes and holy water are valuable weapons against unholy horrors. The Nun never needs to stop and explain any of this, because the audience already understands so many of the trappings of the Catholicism-as-horror concept from The Exorcist and other movies it inspired. 

But it's more than just ideas that The Nun borrows from its spiritual predecessor. At least one image of horror in the movie is a very clear visual reference to The Exorcist. As Father Burke lays trapped in a wooden coffin, buried alive in the abbey's graveyard thanks to the manipulations of Valak, he is impossibly grabbed from behind by the malevolent demon. As Valak claws at Burke's face, the audience can briefly see the twisted visage of the demon flash within the darkness beside Burke's. 

The moment is highly reminiscent of a incident from The Exorcist, when the demon terrorizing Regan MacNeil appears in a snarling, near-subliminal flash frame. In both movies, the quick glimpse at the face of the demon is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. But as with basically every scare The Nun offers, it's a whole lot noisier in the newer movie.

Shadow walking

The Nun brings back one of the titular demon's most effective moves from The Conjuring 2, this time in an effort to scare the life out of the younger Farmiga sister. 

As Sister Irene explores the grounds of the abbey during her first night there, she crosses paths with Valak — or, at least, the demon's shadow representation. As Burke lays trapped in a coffin in the graveyard of the abbey grounds, Irene wanders the halls alone by lantern light. In one chamber, the demon looms up before her on the wall in shadow form, catching Irene's eye. As she watches in terror, Valak's shadow walks across the walls toward a mirror in the room. When the shadow reaches the mirror, the demon appears to be moving in the room behind Irene in a terrifying reflection.

Savvy viewers of The Conjuring movies will recognize this as the exact same move that Valak pulls years later when it gets a moment alone with Lorraine Warren. In that movie, Valak shadowwalks its way around a cozy wood-paneled study toward a portrait of the demon nun, playing mindgames with the paranormal investigator. It's almost disappointing to see the monster repeat the same move in this prequel. We've seen Valak in two movies now, and it already appears to be all out of tricks.

The beginning and the end

The Nun brings things full circle in its final minutes, cutting from the Romanian abbey of St. Cartas in 1952 to Wakefield, Massachusetts, 20 years later. This postscript scene loops the finale of The Nun back into the very first Conjuring movie, revealing that the lecture given by Ed and Lorraine Warren in that movie was all along referring to an encounter the couple had with The Nun's Maurice, who is revealed to have been possessed by Valak during the final battle with the demon in the abbey's catacombs.

The ending of The Nun briefly recreates this scene, using brand new footage of The Nun's Maurice, played by Jonas Bloquet in place of The Conjuring's original actor. It's a moment that makes The Nun both a prequel and a sequel to the first two Conjuring movies, revealing that Lorraine and Ed's visions of the demonic nun were implanted into them by their encounter with the possessed Maurice. What began in Romania in 1952 with The Nun ends in London's borough of Enfield in 1977, as the Warrens decisively banish Valak from the earthly realm — for a little while, at least.