There are so many crosses in “The Nun” you wonder if it wasn’t shot in Madonna’s house.

The pre-prequel to “The Conjuring” combines “Frankenstein”-era settings with “Exorcist”-level surprises. When a nun (circa 1952) appears to have hung herself at a convent, Vatican officials send in a priest (Demian Bichir), who apparently has experience with this kind of stuff, and a young novitiate (Taissa Farmiga), who looks a lot like the woman who does the conjuring in the 1970s (Farmiga just happens to be the sister of Vera Farmiga, who plays that role).

They meet a French-Canadian farmer (Jonas Bloquet), who turns up at the most opportune times.

Director Corin Hardy wastes no time in turning off the lights and turning up the music. “The Nun” doesn’t have as many jumps as most horror films but it does weave a fairly complex story. When Bichir points out that bells are attached to gravestones so those wrongly buried can summon help, we know that’s going to happen.

Sure enough. Someone gets shoved into a grave by the evil spirit lurking.

“The Nun” doesn’t offer many characters, just a lot of special effects and that unrelenting score.

Because Farmiga’s Sister Irene hasn’t taken her vows, she’s particularly vulnerable. A nun tries to warn her – about the evil force and the hole in the ground that can only be sealed with the blood of Christ – but she doesn’t offer clues as to how she can do that. That means the three have to do some sleuthing in a place that’s long on hallways.

Hardy takes his time pulling the maelstrom together but once he does we get the misdirects that appear in the film’s trailer.

There’s an epilogue of sorts that tries to connect this to the first films but, really, it could stand alone and never reference the others.

Taissa Farmiga reacts well to everything, pulling us in to her plight; Bichir brings class to a film that isn’t reaching for that and Bloquet is a big surprise, offering laughs when the story needs them most.

“The Nun” thrives on a lot of unknown tradition but it’s the evil nun Valak (Bonnie Aarons) who gets the heart pounding. References to Voldemort and others are purely intentional.

When we get the big showdown, it doesn’t come a minute too soon.

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