A Filmmaker's Guide to the Character of Valak
Study, Experience, and Analysis
(Note: This article will be covering the design and impact created by "Valak" the character of the Conjuring universe. It is recommended that you watch "The Conjuring 2" and "The Nun" in preparation for this analysis.)
Valak, the Demonic Nun, is possibly one of my favourite characters from any horror film ever because the character itself is so cleverly designed in a way it fits perfectly into the story. There are certain aspects of the character we are going to discuss here, and I wanted to also show my appreciation for the way in which she comes into frame and has a lasting effect on other characters. She is quite possibly one of the most important parts of the universe considering that she is able to freak Lorraine Warren out of taking another case for a long time. Let's have a look at the themes we'll be covering today to do with the character of Valak:
Let's get on with our analysis of the character then:
It is important that the character of Valak has the correct amount of space in order to produce the desired effect. If you've read my article on The Conjuring universe, you've probably already figured out which frame I'm going to get us to analyse. The space in which Valak exists is meant to create uncertainty and tension instead of actually scare us. It is this uncertainty that makes Lorraine Warren follow her into the other room. Let's take a look at the frame then:
We must take a moment to appreciate my favourite still from the Conjuring universeas it is a beautiful shot of the character. Look at the space this character has to either side of them, there are rooms but we don't get to see them. Instead, the audience gets to see the long hallway in which Valak is standing at the end.The creation of uncertainty is very important for this character and, it's created by having this character stay completely still within that space. It gives the impression of tension and something bad about to happen. This happens because of the fact there is space on either side of her, space she is not using. The movement of Valak towards one of these spaces would beg the question of why she's moving now and where she's going.
It also produces a sort of danger. We have a character who is stood at the end of this long hallway in a pose that suggests they are waiting for someone or something. Then, we have the hallway itself in which there is absolutely nowhere else to move except for down it and therefore, towards or away from this character in a straight line. There is nothing obscured and therefore, the character at the other end is in danger of not being able to get out of the sight of this particular character.
If you would like to get a better concept of this character in a bigger space, then have a look at the scene directly after this in which she taunts and scares Lorraine Warren:
This is a brilliant use of space by Valak as she intimidates Lorraine Warren in a physically bigger space, but it is still a small one. One singular room is used to do this and, again we have this traveling of straight lines. She appears across the wall, walking in a straight line. Then, she appears in the painting, again, attacking in a straight line. It is important to get all of these straight lines correct because this is how we established the inhumanity of the character as no human can always seem to move in straight lines. No wonder it is one of my personal favourite scenes in the entire universe.
In the newest installment, The Nun, Valak's use of space is profound as it is awesome. She seems to move within the space of the character of Sister Irene and, as she did with Lorraine Warren, intimidates her. Just take a look at the frame above. She is close to the character within the mirror and even though there is an entire room reflected in the mirror, there doesn't seem to be anywhere Sister Irene can go purely because of the intimidation by Valak. She towers over her and comes up behind her so that she cannot physically move within the space. I call this a character "deleting space" by design. The darkness of the robes of Valak make the space look smaller than it actually is; what a beautiful scene.
If you would like to get a better concept of the amount of space, then have a look at the scene titled "Don't Stop Praying" from The Nun, as this is set in the same room:
The scene gives us a great concept of massive space. This is the same room in which the demon appears in the mirror and, it's important to remember the depth of the room. The depth of the room is important because of the way Valak "deletes" the space by having the darkness of her robes almost envelope the spaces behind her. This could be useful for space in your own film as it creates a massive amount of tension; there is so much space, but nowhere the character can go.
Now, we've talked a little about darkness and deleting space in the last paragraph, but now we're going to concentrate on how Valak can change the tone of the film from being fairly dark to being demonic. This can only be done by character and can't actually be created by any form of lighting. You can only ever make a scene physically darker by lighting, but by using character, you can "create" darkness in other ways. Let's take a look at how Valak does this:
We can already see that this scene produces darkness by the lack of light and the way of shadowing; this means we are prepared for something to happen. But, the addition of Valak to the scene almost makes it look darker. This is not only done by her clothing but is also done by the way in which she appears. In this scene, she appears in a mirror to begin with whereas, before she was not there. This is the same scene in which she is taunting Lorraine Warren and the reason for this is still unclear if you're watching the film for the first time. Valak's darkness is also done by her standing position as she insists on looking towards the shadows, therefore, darkening her own position in the frame purposefully.
If you wanted to explore her darkness in a little more detail in The Conjuring 2, then take a look the the scene in which she is intimidating Lorraine Warren. Or, just as well, have a look at the following scene "Follow You 'Til Death," in which she appears behind Bill Wilkins:
This is a great scene which shows us the true darkness of Valak. Her appearance makes the scene unsympathetic seeing as now we know Bill Wilkins isn't the demon that is troubling the child—it is Valak. This twist relies on the fact that this scene exists and, creates sympathy for Bill Wilkins as here, he looks like a very normal person. It is only when Valak appears that the entire scene gets darker. But, if you were listening to the music in the background, you probably knew she was already there.
Valak's appearance is very important to the way in which she is perceived in both movies. If we were to have a look at how her appearance impacts the way in which her character is not only perceived by the audience, but by other characters, we'd be able to see why she's a nun in the first place. Let's have a look at a frame then:
There are only really two colours to Valak: black and white. This helps when Valak requires to depict darkness because the amount of black she is wearing can make any singular scene she is in look and seem darker than it actually is. The amount of white on her let's the audience know that she is present. It's an incredible technique for colour.
Notice how Valak's features are quite sharp and distinct. You wouldn't mistake her for someone else. This helps in the character's recognition as being evil in the story as the features are exemplified to look unusual, not only in colour but also in the way other characters perceive them
If you would like to study the appearance of Valak further, just take a look at the "The Defiler" scene:
The appearance of Valak is quite unique in the world of horror because of the fact she isn't a complicated and over structural character. The yellow eyes give away the demonic entity and yet, there is not much else too it. The fact that Valak is not that complex means that she is more believable in existence; this is the appearance that makes her frightening rather than the way in which she exists as a foreign entity within a given space. It must be these two things combined which gives us a good "appearance" of Valak as a three dimensional character.
Let's take a look at another frame then:
Her appearance in The Nun (2018) is almost always carried by this blue tinge that makes her black robes stand out and look darker than they actually are. It's a clever design for character, and if you were watching The Exorcist then you'll realise that it's a design component used in that film as well. (You'll notice many similarities between the cinematography of The Exorcist and The Nun if you watched closely and know the basics of film).
Let's take a look at the way she's standing. Again, we have these straight lines of her characters that are almost inhuman - it's a common trope of the Valak character and, used in something like The Nun could make the character stand out when she actually wanted the opposite effect. The reason this happens is that now all the other nuns are dead, there is no need for Valak to hide anymore—she is now more malevolent and inhuman than ever.
The best way to see her incredible appearance is through the scares of the trailer (as I don't want to give too much away):
Her appearance is much different to most other characters of horror and, as you can see, is partially based on the demon you will encounter when watching The Exorcist. Just look at the face, it's pretty much the same and uses the same colours. The make-up is very similar and the straight lines are very similar as well.
The way this character is designed is based on the demon from The Exorcist and the reason is because it's very popular. Most everyone who watches horror knows of this demon and so, basing the design of Valak on this particular character would be ultra-recogniseable.
As you can see, there are many aspects of the character to explore and, if you wanted to do some more Valak-based exploration of character you may want to look at the following attributes:
- Depicting the Demon
- The Fear of Other Characters
- The Way in Which Valak Appears and Why
I hope you found this interesting and good luck on your next project!