Having impressed many with his debut feature, 2015’s The Hallow, many genre fans were hugely excited at the prospect of Corin Hardy tackling The Nun. With that terrifying gothic entry in the shared Conjuring realm hitting home release next week, we caught up with Corin to discuss the movie, the charming gothic horrors of yesteryear, his real-life spooky encounters on the set of The Nun, and a whole lot more.
STARBURST: Firstly, how did your involvement in The Nun initially come about?
Corin Hardy: Well I was sent the script through James Wan’s Atomic Monster company. I was familiar with the character from The Conjuring 2, and I’m a horror fan so was familiar with James’ work. I was eager to see what the story would be, and I was surprised and excited by the mysterious adventure story that I read in the script. That enticed me to get involved. I pretty much read the script in the morning, had a Skype with him that afternoon, and was working on it the next day.
With The Nun being a part of an existing franchise that has such a strong fanbase, was there any trepidation from yourself in taking on the project?
Not really. I’ve got a number of my own projects and I’ve got a number of different stories that I’m juggling and wanting to tell, and when The Nun came around it was sort of a curveball. Like I said, I read it very quickly, then I thought, “Can I get my teeth into this?” Because it was such an old school gothic horror story with an adventure element that took place in a time and a place that was visually appealing and had a lot of elements of things that I love, I could see myself making it. From getting the job, there wasn’t a lot of time to sit back and contemplate or be concerned. I was very encouraged by James and by New Line – who have made some great movies – to do my thing with their support. It was a creative collaborative process.
Given the rich charm of some of the classic gothic horrors of yesteryear, was there anything in particular that you went back and watched for inspiration when putting The Nun together?
You said the word rich, and that’s a good word. I guess I’m a fan of these environments. It painted a lot of visuals in my head that harked back to a lot of movies that I loved growing up, that held a lot of mystery and horror, and I think the kind of movies that actually aren’t really being made now. A lot of horror tends to be very contemporary or current, with the exception of maybe something like The Witch, or it’s a blockbuster mega-budget adventure movie. I put together a mood book once I was getting involved in the project, to sort of share with my crew. It was full of references from classic horror movies; Hammer movies; The Exorcist; The Exorcist III; Name of the Rose; Evil Dead 2; Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; Dracula, both the Coppola and Hammer ones; science-fiction movies; Black Narcissus and the sort of rich colours and cinematography in a movie like that; there were some Italian horror movies. I guess that was the sort of colour palette and environmental palette of the castles and the mountains and forests, the candle-lit corridors that were flickering, the darkness. It’s the most potent, classic horror environment. When I was making the movie, it made me feel quite happy that it was my own little Dracula movie.
In the last four or five years – and a lot of it is down to people like James Wan – do you think that there’s been almost a resurgence in great horror?
I definitely think that there are cycles or styles of horror, of subgenres of horror, and we may be in between a couple at the moment. I think what James brought back, particularly with The Conjuring, he harked back to this Golden Era of horror – like The Exorcist – where you had great characters, great cast, beautiful cinematography, classic storytelling. You invested in it, it’s not cynical. It’s not for laughs but it can have humour in it, and it was respectful and contains a lot of mystery and fantasy that grounds it. I think that’s what people find attractive about the Conjuring movies, that they have a grounding. The Nun was intentionally a little bit different, a little bit more of a fantasy adventure with a gothic horror element. Then I guess you’ve got what Jordan Peele’s doing, recently there’s Hereditary. These are very contemporary stories that feel like they’re taking place in our real world and that can scare us in a different way.
You touched on it there, that at times there is a little bit of lightness and humour in horror movies. In The Nun, the Frenchie character is often there to bring some levity to proceedings. How important was that character in balancing out the tone of the picture?
It’s something that you ultimately balance in the edit, but it was always written that his character was this sort of everyman character who was always a little bit slow and helped provide levity. In the testing period of making the movie, he got such a lot of love that he definitely became even more of a character in the final cut of the movie. It’s certainly not a comedy-horror, but when you have a horror movie and you can balance it and give license to letting the audience catch their breath, it enhances the scares and the ride that they’re on if you can suspend the belief around it. So it’s definitely a fine line. Frenchie is a very likable guy and Jonas [Bloquet] the actor is wonderful. I think one of my favourite scenes in the movie, spoiler alert, is towards the end when Father Burke, Irene and Frenchie have finally come together as a unit and Irene takes her vows. They’ve all been through hell and are preparing to go deeper, Frenchie’s loading the shotgun, and they’ve now gelled as a unit. I really liked that image. Then as they go down, they come across the Blood of Christ and there’s a little scene between them where it’s very holy and quite a tense moment as they retrieve this sacred artefact and Burke ends up giving it to Irene. We managed to get away with a little line from Frenchie that I think just underpins, just before they go in to the darkness and the scary place to encounter the demon Nun, that there’s a real moment where you can kind of breathe again.
There are certain stories that the set in Romania was blessed by a Priest and that you yourself had your own spooky encounter out there. How true is all of that?
Both stories are totally 100% true. New Line, who have done a lot of these movies, make a point on every movie they make – the Conjuring movies, the Annabelle movies, any movies with religious content – that they not only get the religious community involved and run the scripts by them as they don’t want to offend anyone, but also they get, in this case a Roman Catholic Priest, to come and bless the set. He blessed the castle. I was standing there, it took a good half an hour and I don’t know quite what he said, but he got a big bottle of holy water and was flicking it around. He flicked it right in my face and I got a whole eye-full of it. Maybe I was super protected for the shoot, but then during the shoot…
I’m a relatively sceptical person, and I don’t really say it lightly, but I did have what I can only amount to a supernatural experience while I was making the movie. It was during the Corridor of Crosses sequence, which was shot in a real underground fortress in Romania – a real and genuinely creepy, dark and strange labyrinth – and I was shooting the sequence where Irene is approaching the door that the Nun is behind. It was quite an elaborate, long 50ft track. I had to be based in a room off that corridor, which was a real dungeon-like square room with only one door that went out on to the corridor. There was only one way in and out. It was pitch black in that room, and as I went in to the room from the corridor we were shooting in to look at the monitors, I saw two men sitting in the darkness. I thought they were Romanian crew members, because you see a lot of crew hiding around corners, trying to get out the way of the shot in little spaces. I went in, I saw these two men in the dark at the back of the room, nodded to them, then turned my back to watch the monitor for 20 minutes while we rehearsed this shot that was quite difficult to get right. When we finally had the shot, I turned to announce my excitement of getting the shot. I turned to the two men behind me to find no one in the room at all. There was no one there, and they couldn’t have come in or go out. This was an old military fortress that have had death in, so I feel they must be Romanian ghosts checking in on what was going on while we were making The Nun.
Before The Nun was released, James Wan said there could be the chance to do a sequel should the film do well. With the picture having taken over $360 million from a $22 million budget, would you be interested in returning for a Nun sequel or another movie set within the Conjuring realm?
We talked about it before shooting and during it, in terms of different ideas for the story and where it could take us. I’m always interested in furthering stories, so we’ll have to wait and see. James and I get on very well and we text each other about things we love and cool horror movies and stuff.
He just seems to be such a busy guy these days, with his fingers in so many different pies.
I think he’s got pies in pies [laughs]. He’s got a lot going on right now.
Having departed the upcoming reboot of The Crow earlier this year, what else do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
I have a number of feature projects to get in to next, but I’m shooting my first TV series – which I shoot in February – and that’s with Gareth Evans, who made the Raid movies. It’s called Gangs of London and it’s very exciting. It’s a very deep, dark family crime drama. Not like family for kids, but family like The Godfather or a Game of Thrones sort of thing. I’m just in the thick of prep at the moment, I’m shooting in mid-February. Gareth’s shooting his episodes at the moment. It is a contemporary series and it’s very thrilling and violent and action-packed and emotional.
Can audiences expect to see that towards the end of 2019, the beginning of next year?
You know, it’s HBO and Sky and I haven’t even actually asked when it will air. We’ve got a lot to do first.
The Nun is available on Blu-ray and DVD from January 14th.