'Bad Nun': Can a Shameless Knockoff Convert Buyers?

Bad Nun still - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of ITN Distribution

Z-movie "mockbusters" are everywhere at AFM, but when it comes to capitalizing on the success of legit hits, timing is everything.

Nuns are on the run, at least in the halls of AFM, where a bumper harvest of low-budget horrors featuring murderous women of the cloth are up for sale. It shouldn’t be a surprise, of course.

The B-movie world has increasingly made an, ahem, habit of jumping on the coattails of major studio productions, backing a growing assortment of so-called "mockbusters" with names suspiciously similar to Hollywood tentpoles (largely in order to rise to the top of SVOD search engines).

As such, at this year’s American Film Market, the likes of Megalodon (The Meg), Jurassic City (Jurassic World) and Hornet (Bumblebee) are all being touted. And, following The Nun, the $364 million smash that recently became the most successful film in Warner Bros.’ Conjuring franchise, smaller-pocketed genre buyers can get in on the (sister) act, too, thanks to such titles as The Bad Nun, Curse of the Nun, The Sinister Nun and, just, Nun.

“Our film wasn’t actually called that, it was called The Watcher and then renamed,” says Scott Jeffrey, the British writer-director of The Bad Nun, which is being shopped by ITN Distribution. “They came to us in February and said they needed a film with a nun in it. They didn’t really care what it was about, it just needed to have a nun basically doing bad shit.”

As it happened, Jeffrey already had an idea brewing that fit the bill: a story involving a troublesome girl who is shipped off by her concerned mother to an Airbnb in the British countryside, one that just so happens to be a converted nunnery. Late ino the night, a nun knocks on the door and — Hallelujah! — does some bad shit.

But despite what the name might suggest, The Bad Nun isn’t remotely similar to Corin Hardy’s all-conquering supernatural thriller. It's a slasher.

“It’s like a wink toward Black Christmas and When a Stranger Calls,” says Jeffrey. “This is my attempt — with the budget of a handbag — to do one of those.”

Should terrifying religious orders of women stay in fashion (and there have been reports of a sequel to The Nun), Jeffrey already has a concept for a follow-up, one tapping into the peculiar world of dubiously qualified psychics doling out advice online. “And I want to do one where the nun is basically on the other side of it,” he says.

Jeffrey actually produced another new horror title sounding remarkably like a film that recently gained a sizable following — Mandy: The Haunted Doll (also being shopped by ITN). But while this might land high in searches for the Nicolas Cage blood-soaked soon-to-be-cult favorite, the filmmaker insists that wasn’t the intention.

“Usually, once we get commissioned, the company is already aware that a particular film is going to be massive. And I don’t think they were aware of Mandy or if Nic Cage was on their radar,” he says.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 4 daily issue at the American Film Market.