The Sound of Freedom, The Nun II, and why horror movies are "faith-based" cinema

by Charles Gerian

“It’s okay to be scared- I’m scared, too.”

Michael Chaves’s THE NUN II opened last weekend to a sensational $32 million box office, delivering some excellent visuals and some fantastic scares along the way.

The sequel to 2018’s THE NUN, this chilling follow-up finds Sister Irene investigating a trail of holy men’s bodies that lead to France. The Vatican pays her a special visit, of course, knowing that she’s one of the few people alive who know exactly what evil is at play…

…a demon nun named Valak. And now, she’s terrorizing a boarding school for girls in France in order to get her hands on a holy relic that could increase her power tenfold.

THE NUN II is the rare horror movie sequel that acts as a direct continuation of the first film, expanding The Conjuring Universe in the process and raising some interesting questions going forward as to how this demon nun came into being.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but THE NUN II is a fantastic entry into a franchise chock-full of hits and has, thanks to cinematographer Tristan Nyby, some of the most jaw-dropping shots in the entire 8-film Conjuring saga.

But the increasingly interesting aspect of this sub-franchise The Nun, The Conjuring Universe, and horror as a whole is if these movies could be considered “Faith-based Cinema”.

That word carries a “derogatory” note of course, in some circles.

When I say “Faith-based” or “Christian” (i.e. Protestant) cinema, one would think of films like “God’s Not Dead”, “Fireproof”, “The Shack”, “Heaven is For Real”, the digital series “The Chosen”, “Risen”, “I Can Only Imagine”, or more recently the film “The Sound of Freedom”, most released straight-to-DVD or from grass-roots independent studios or major studio off-shoots.

Obviously there are religious (Catholic-leaning) films like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, Martin Scorcese’s “Silence”, even Ron Howard’s “The DaVinci Code” that have a bit more pedigree behind them.

Their critical reviews for most aside, faith-based cinema is a lucrative business with billions of dollars grossed against usually minuscule budgets.

These movies, as anyone who has seen them knows, rely heavily on the use of belief or religion as a tangible and real force.

Is it time we consider that one of the most successful brands of “religious cinema” is horror?

Hell, is it time we (further) reclassify horror?

The Conjuring tells the story of real-life “demonologists” Ed and Lorainne Warren (played in the film saga by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who were real-life Roman Catholic paranormal investigators.

In these films, the power of God and the power of evil are not down-played in the slightest.

This, chiefly, is a plot-point in THE CONJURING III: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT where the Warrens defend a man on trial for murder due to his influence of demonic possession where Ed Warren, in the film, challenges the court system by stating that if defendants and witnesses swear upon a Bible that the court recognizes God as real, so why not lend the same respect to the power of the devil?

In THE NUN II, for instance, Sister Irene is accompanied by a young novitiate who accompanies Irene solely because she “wants to see a miracle”.

The entire plot of THE NUN II revolves around the demon Valak attempting to secure Saint Lucy’s eyes, a holy relic of the Catholic Church.

The climactic final battle sees Irene (who we learn is a descendant of Saint Lucy) battling the demon nun and quite literally using the power of prayer to turn a basement full of wine casks into the Blood of Christ, performing the Holy Sacrament (Communion) to defeat this fallen angel Valak.

In The Conjuring Films, the power of God is just as “real” in the film universe as, say, super powers are in any DC or Marvel flick or The Force in Star Wars.

This October, audiences will have their pickings of horror between the “Five Nights at Freddies” film adaptation and “The Exorcist: Believer”.

The Exorcist film franchise, also, relies very heavily on the tangible power of faith.

William Friedkin’s celebrated 1973 original follows two Catholic priests in their battle against the demon Pazuzu that has taken hold of a young American girl, Regan.

In the 1973 film, the priests are Jason Miller’s Father Karras and Max Von Sydow’s Father Merrin. Both of these holymen couldn’t be more different. Karras’s faith is wavering as he is faced with his ailing mother, meanwhile Father Merrin is a devout of the Catholic faith and ultimately gives his life in his battle against the demon, reinforcing Karras’s own beliefs.

There is no moment in Friedkin’s 1973 Exorcist where the power of science is used to fight the evil possessing this little girl. The film even goes to such lengths as showing the medical tests on Regan as almost more horrific than the actual possession.

This use of religion as a real-world power is not exclusive to these films, mind you. Anyone who has seen the long-running TV series “Supernatural” can attest to that- that series is so insanely deep in religious lore that it’ll make you want to crack open the good book to see for yourself what all the fuss is about.

In the real world, the likelihood that there’s much of an overlap in people buying tickets to, say, “God’s Not Dead” and THE NUN II is probably not too high. Horror fans don’t watch religious movies, and religious movie-goers don’t usually watch horror films.

But aren’t they really watching the same thing?

Sure the road to get there is a tad different- watching an atheist college professor debate with a religious student before a series of dramatic events change his view versus watching a demon Nun engulf a priest in flames after snapping his bones.

But the end result is the same. Faith. A reaffirmation. A calling. A show of power versus bad or “evil”.

I’m not saying that your average church-going mother would like to have you show her your Bluray collection of something like the “Saw” movies or “Nightmare on Elm Street” the same as your average box-dyed hair “Chucky” fan would be less than eager to sit through “Fireproof” or “Miracle in Heaven”. I mean, they might be, different strokes, and all that.

But my point is, that there is probably more overlap between horror and “faith-based” films than you might like to think.