The untold truth of The Nun

The dust has barely had time to settle on the critically and commercially successful Annabelle: Creation, but fans of The Conjuring's cinematic universe are already gearing up for the next installment, 2018's The Nun. 

Set for a July release, this will be the fifth film in James Wan's fast-growing horror franchise (another spinoff, The Crooked Man, is currently in development) and will delve deeper into the origins of the demonic nun first introduced to viewers in The Conjuring 2. The character popped up again in the recent Annabelle prequel—once on a creepy old photograph, and again in a post-credits scene—and is clearly becoming a vital piece in the overall Conjuring puzzle, but who (or what) is she exactly? This is the untold truth of The Nun.

The script was penned by the It screenwriter

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman is poised to become one of Hollywood's most in-demand talents, having penned the hugely successful 2017 adaptation of Stephen King's It. The '80s-set reboot recently overtook The Exorcist as the highest-grossing horror movie of all time in the United States, and Dauberman has high hopes for his next project, too. The scribe told Collider that The Nun will succeed because it takes a fresh approach to well-trodden territory.

"James [Wan] has been really particular and he wants each movie in the universe to have its own sort of flavor and its own sense of style and not feel like it's just kind of a rehash of what's come before," Dauberman explained. "And I think The Nun takes a really cool approach that we haven't seen before in some of the other [Conjuring Universe] movies." This is all a far cry from his early days as a screenwriter, which he spent working for the infamously low-budget Syfy channel.

Dauberman managed to get his foot in the door by writing B movies like 2007's In The Spider's Web on short notice, an experience that taught him some valuable lessons in timekeeping. "What I loved about working for Syfy was, everything's happening so quickly," he told EW. "I would write a script in a week, and send it over, and then they would shoot the movie. It honed my skills on how to write quickly and deliver on what was needed. It taught me a lot."

The director is best known for music videos

Like Dauberman, British director Corin Hardy didn't have tons of experience when James Wan approached him about joining the Conjuring Universe team, but the one feature film he did have on his résumé suggested great things. The Hollywood Reporter called 2015's The Hallow a "kickass calling card for Hardy as he moves on to bigger projects," while the Rotten Tomatoes critic consensus on the movie declared that there was a "wonderfully horrifying future for director Corin Hardy."

Up to that point, Hardy had been plying his trade in music videos. Between 2008 and 2011, the director helmed clips for bands like the Prodigy and Biffy Clyro as well as British pop stars like Olly Murs and Paolo Nutini, but none of these were particularly scary. His maiden music video was a different story, however. The video for "She Is the New Thing" by the Horrors was an even earlier indication that Hardy could become a big name in horror given half the chance.

A decade later, Wan recognized his talent and his enthusiasm for the genre and snapped him up to direct The Nun. "Corin is such a monster movie nut and I just love the guy's passion. All these up-and-coming filmmakers remind me of what I was when I started with Saw." Wan told EW. "So I'm very excited for what Corin has done with The Nun, and right now we're in post-production, putting the film together."

Hardy didn't want to cast Taissa Farmiga

One of the biggest decisions Hardy had to make while casting The Nun was whether he should offer a part to American Horror Story star Taissa Farmiga. The actress' older sister Vera, of course, stars with Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren, the real-life paranormal investigators around whom the Conjuring films and subsequent movie universe were built. This put Hardy in an awkward position when Taissa came in to audition, but luckily for everyone involved, she absolutely nailed it.

"Honestly, I probably wasn't going to cast her because she was Vera's sister, in order for it to not look convenient, but she was so good in her auditions," Hardy revealed during London's FrightFest 2017 (via DigitalSpy). "I watched 100 auditions for this role and she had some kind of presence outside of her own body that is evident, and she's phenomenal."

Farmiga wasn't the only audition Hardy was impressed by. The director spoke at length about the cast he and Wan managed to assemble, calling the group a "real mixture" of talent according to Rue Morgue. "I was really pleased to get [Taissa Farmiga], and also Demián Bichir—in The Hateful Eight, he plays Mexican Bob, who gets his face blown off. We've got also Jonas Bloquet, who's in Paul Verhoeven's movie Elle and is fantastic."

It will have an element of adventure

Another interesting piece of Nun news that came out of London's FrightFest 2017 was that the film will not be straight-up horror, but will incorporate elements of other genres. According to Hardy, The Nun is designed to frighten viewers while also taking them on an adventure into the deepest and darkest parts of post-War Europe.

"They sent me the script, and I had some movies I had been developing myself and was looking to make, and initially I wondered what The Nun was going to be about," the director told those in attendance. "I can't really tell you right now, but it was an exciting script to read. It's set in Romania in the '50s, which was a really cool world to explore with this kind of film; it had a little bit of an adventure to it."

Screenwriter Gary Dauberman revealed during a press event for It that Hardy took the script he had written and "just f***ing ran with it," adding that his approach has made the movie completely unique in the series. "I feel great about it, Corin has done a hell of a job," Dauberman said (via Den of Geek). "He's fit into the universe really well, he worked with James [Wan] really well. It feels like its own movie, but it still feels like part of the universe. It's a nice, distinct movie that sets itself apart from the others."

It was shot on location in Transylvania

One major plus to filming on location in Romania is that it costs a fraction of the price you have to pay to make a picture in western Europe, never mind the States. But the main reason the cast and crew of The Nun were flown out to Romania is simple: it has an abundance of creepy castles. The country's Transylvania region is the historical home of Vlad the Impaler, a 13th century tyrannical leader who became known for his bloody reign of violence and would later inspire Bram Stoker to write his horror classic Dracula.

According to Variety, the story of The Nun begins when a young nun at a secluded abbey in Romania commits suicide. Disturbed by the news, the Vatican sends a priest with a haunted past (Bichir) and a novitiate on the brink of committing to her final vows (Farmiga) to investigate. Together the pair unearth the mysterious Romanian order's unholy secret and are confronted by a malevolent force—the same demonic nun from The Conjuring 2.

"The fact that it's set in Romania and there's a castle and there's graveyards and fog—it's very Gothic and very much in the style and sensibility of Hammer horror, which feels different and atmospheric," Dauberman (also an executive producer) said. "I was there from April to the end of June, in Romania. Just as a horror fan, you're like, 'Oh my god.' That was something I'll never forget," he told GameSpot.

​The story was inspired by The Name of the Rose​​

Based on Italian author Umberto Eco's bestselling novel of the same name, 1986's The Name of the Rose stars Sean Connery as William of Baskerville, a fictional friar who is often thought to be a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes (The Hound of the Baskervilles was the title of Holmes' third and most popular outing) and prominent Middle Ages philosopher William of Ockham.

In the film, Baskerville and his apprentice Adso of Melk (a young Christian Slater) are called to a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy in order to investigate the unexplained death of a famous monk. The plot thickens when the last person the monk spoke to before he passed turns up dead in a vat of pig blood, with the residents of the abbey fearing the devil is at work.

When asked to describe The Nun, Wan said that it was like "The Name of the Rose crossed with The Conjuring," and the similarities between the stories are clear. They both have a religious historical setting and involve a member of the church arriving at a strange place to investigate a mysterious murder, though where the stories will differ is in the cause of the carnage. In The Name of the Rose, the threat is very much a human one, but in The Nun, those fearing a supernatural force is at work are actually correct.

The Nun character was a last minute addition

The terrifying nun that Lorraine Warren first sees in a premonition during The Conjuring 2 became one of the most talked-about parts of that movie, but Wan revealed that the character was actually only added to the film during re-shoots. Despite having what he described as a "strong outlook" on the story as a whole from the word go, Wan chose to let the appearance of the movie's main antagonist reveal itself to him along the way.

"I felt like I was still discovering it," Wan told i09. "And believe it or not, I always knew that I was going to do additional photography. So I was saving it because I was hoping I'd discover what that thing would look like as I was putting the movie together in post-production."

The Malaysian-Australian horror mogul revealed that the idea of giving the demonic entity the form of a nun came to him after a conversation he had with the real Lorraine Warren. "From talking to Lorraine in passing, she mentioned a spectral entity that has haunted her in her house," the director said. The last thing he wanted to do was to use tons of CGI to create this entity, however. "I wanted something that would attack her faith. Something that would threaten the safety of her husband. And so that was eventually how the idea of this … image of a holy icon cemented in my head."

Valak is the name of a real demon

The eponymous nun is a product of Wan's imagination, but the demonic being behind the habit is rooted in real-life lore. The name Valak appears in documents dating back to the 12th century, and in Wan's universe it often takes the shape of a nun. In classic demonologist text The Lesser Key of Solomon, Valak is given the title Grand President of Hell and commands legions of demonic minions, though nowhere does it describe the evil entity as a nun.

Valak is best known for taking the form of a winged child who rides a two-headed dragon, which sounds epic but simply isn't suited to haunted house movies. We know Valak can take multiple forms in Wan's world, however, as the demon briefly becomes the Crooked Man in The Conjuring 2. Does this mean Ed and Lorraine Warren's final showdown with the franchise's main villain will involve a creepy kid flying a dragon? If producer Peter Safran's interview with CinemaBlend is anything to go by, this could realistically happen as soon as The Conjuring 3.

The Warrens didn't just document their experiences with haunted houses during their careers as supernatural investigators, they also wrote about supposed encounters with mythical beasts like werewolves and yeti. "There are a lot of places to go, and there's a fair bit of material there," Safran said. "We can't do another supernatural possession in a house with a family in peril, right? So, it's got to be something different than that, I think."

Wan already has a sequel planned

If the showdown between the Warrens and Valak doesn't happen in The Conjuring 3, it will likely come in The Nun 2, the sequel Wan already has mapped out. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, the director revealed that should The Nun succeed he knows exactly where to take the story so it comes "full circle" for the viewer. "I do know where potentially, if The Nun works out, where The Nun 2 could lead to," Wan said, "and how that ties back to Lorraine's story that we've set up with the first two Conjurings and make it all come full circle."

Wan has already ruled himself out of directing the third Conjuring film because of his commitments to Aquaman, the DC Extended Universe entry starring Jason Momoa in the title role. By the time The Nun 2 nears production in a few years' time, however, Wan will hopefully be free to come back and steer the movie universe he started in the direction he has always envisioned.

"I really want to keep that classical sort of old-school storytelling going on with all these films," he admitted. "Those are the kind of horror movies that I really love, and so I want to make sure that all these films within the Conjuring world feel like they came from the same place. I don't want them feeling too disjointed from a visual standpoint."