This isn’t our first run-in with the Nun, after all.
The Conjuring Universe might not have the name recognition or the star power of something like the MCU, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a self referential web of continuity and call acks that happen across different movies, pulled from different sources, over multiple years. If there’s anything the 2010s have taught us about pop culture it’s that we just can’t get enough of a good shared cinematic universe.
The Nun is the fifth installment in the Conjuring lineup, after two official Conjuring movies, Annabelle, and Annabelle: Creation, meaning it has a ton of room to work in this particular playground. And work it does, as it follows the ill-fated adventure of a vatican employed “miracle hunter,” Father Burke, and his newly assigned partner, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) to investigate a mysterious suicide in a remote Romanian monastery. Of course, things don’t go exactly as planned, and what Burke and Irene actually wind up finding is anything but a miracle. The monastery itself had been confining an ancient demonic evil that had since escaped its prison and was beginning to rain death and terror down on anyone who dared cross its path.
This wasn’t the first time we’d come face to face with said demonic evil. Valak, the demon nun itself, has been featured in multiple Conjuring Universe installations with a featured role as the Big Bad of the Conjuring 2, and as an ominous and looming presence in Annabelle: Creation. Wheels within wheels of manipulation and deceit have placed Valak at the very heart of the Conjuring Universe’s arcane web, and subtly built it up as one of the most destructive and dangerous forces in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s life.
But we’re not here to talk about the doom and gloom of Valak’s spooky apocalyptic desires, ambiguous as they may be. We’re here to talk about all the references, nods and Easter eggs The Nun managed to pack into this latest chapter of the Conjuring Universe. We’ve compiled a list of everything we caught, from classic horror shout outs to historical spooks. Click through the gallery to see them all, and let us know in the comments if we missed anything.
Then check out the scariest nuns in horror movie history, how The Nun fits into the connected Conjuring universe, the full history behind the demonic nun known as Valak, and whether it has an after-credits scene–plus the ending explained.
1. Creepy photos, creepier nuns
Valak may not actually be named in Annabelle: Creation, but Sister Charlotte owns a picture from her time in the Romanian monastery which, disturbingly, features the demon among a group of Charlotte’s friends. You can spot this photo in The Nun as Sister Irene looks through the monastery’s rooms.
When questioned about Valak’s identity in the photo, Charlotte seems to have no recollection of it or it being present when the photo was taken, which likely means that the monastery was at least relatively functional and normal just ten years before the disastrous events of The Nun. What a difference a handful of years can make.
2. The Farmiga Connection
Though their characters are unrelated–at least as far as we know–Sister Irene is played by Taissa Farmiga, the sister of Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren. It’s unlikely that their characters will wind up having a major connection, considering the timeline of events and their respective ages, but it is worth noting that both Irene and Lorraine seem to have an unusual and pointed affinity for the supernatural, and both experience prophetic visions when they come in contact with certain objects or entities.
Maybe Lorraine and Irene will wind up being revealed to be distant cousins somewhere down the line, or perhaps something closer to reality: long lost sisters.
3. Sister Irene
Unlike the Warrens, Sister Irene is not based on a real person, but her name doesn’t seem to have been picked at random. There is a real life saint, Irene Chrysovalantou, who was known as the “destroyer of demons,” for saving a lustful young man named Nicholas from demonic possession. She did this not by official exorcism but by–no joke–confining him to a straight jacket and tying him to the pillars of a church to cast the demon out. So, you know, whatever gets the job done.
4. Maurice’s Exorcism
The Nun concludes with a bit of a bookend to bring things full circle. “Frenchie,” as he’s known for the majority of the movie, turns out to actually be Maurice, who, unfortunately, was one of the cases of possession investigated by the Warrens a few years down the line. After the end of their monastery ordeal, Maurice apparently goes completely off the deep end (no doubt because of his nasty demonic passenger), has a horribly unsuccessful exorcism care of the Warrens, and kills himself.
Though we didn’t know it at the time, the unsuccessful exorcism (featured in the first Conjuring film) was actually Lorraine’s first encounter with Valak.
5. The Exorcist
Of course we can’t have a movie about demonic nuns and exorcisms without at least a couple visual call-backs to the all time classic: The Exorcist.
No, there is no pea soup vomit or rotating heads to be found in The Nun, but there are more than a couple more subtle quotations, specifically in the cinematography that handles Father Burke’s introduction, and the camera work that encompasses Burke and Irene’s approach to the monastery.
Father Burke’s nightmare vision, the ghost of David, a boy he attempted to exorcise but ultimately failed, may seem like just another creepy horror kid, but there’s actually a bit more to him than that. Specifically, the “real” version of Valak actually was represented in ancient grimoires as a cherubic young boy, typically riding on some sort of snake.
Valak in the Conjuring Universe may be best known as a terrifying nun, but David is an extension of that identity and one that actually hits a little bit closer to the–well, are 17th century religious texts considered “source material?” You know what we mean.
7. Miracle Hunters
Father Burke calls his job, unofficially, “miracle hunting,” which is surprisingly actually a completely real thing. The Vatican does genuinely employ bishops to search out and test the validity of supernatural events with a religious bent. There are even online databases available to hunt through lists of officially church recognized unexplained phenomena recorded over the last several centuries.
Typically these phenomena aren’t related to, you know, demons breaking out of their arcane prisons underneath remote monasteries, however. Sorry to disappoint.
8. Plague Bells
One prominent if still background element of The Nun is a graveyard filled with bells, each of which is tied with a string leading down into their respective coffins. Father Burke explains that they were installed during outbreaks of plague to help prevent the unfortunate circumstance of someone getting buried alive.
While this seems like a bunch of conveniently spooky horror movie flavor, this practice really did exist. They were called “safety coffins” and they became immensely popular in the 19th century, with Germany in particular being a huge proponent of their design and implementation. It was less about victims of the plague, however, and more about people just being really, really scared of being buried alive. And honestly, who can blame them?
9. The “Woman in White” Trope
Throughout the movie, Sister Irene wears almost exclusively white. The in story reason is that she hasn’t actually taken her vows yet, so she doesn’t have the official black habit–but there’s a bit more to it than that. Irene’s white outfits put her squarely in the crosshairs of a time honored horror tradition, turned (ever so slightly) on its head–the “woman in white,” the ghostly apparition of a forlorn woman, usually lost on the eve of an important event like a wedding.
Of course, the irony of the Nun is that Irene is actually the only woman in the monastery who isn’t a forlorn apparition–but the cinematography of the movie does its best to play with that idea, giving us some truly fun and deeply classic gothic horror vibes nonetheless.