Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen The Nun yet, this may spoil some plot points and key scares. Proceed with caution.
The 2018 film The Nun takes place in Romania in 1952. After a nun dies by suicide, the Vatican sends Father Burke and Sister Irene to investigate. The duo discovers locals are terrified of the monastery, and as they look into Sister Victoria's death, they discover the nuns' castle is anything but holy.
If you managed to watch The Nun without covering your eyes through half the film, you're probably wondering about Valak, the demon who first appeared in The Conjuring 2 and is the antagonist of The Nun.
Even though Valak is not the allegedly real demon behind the haunting of the Enfield council house - the subject of his introduction in The Conjuring 2 - the creators of the Conjuring universe use this demon to tie together The Conjuring 2 and its spinoff prequel, The Nun. Just like Paimon in Hereditary, occultists consider Valak real, and he is not someone you want to mess with.
Occultists describe Valak as the President of Hell. He appears as a small winged boy who rides a two-headed dragon, and he has the gift of finding riches and treasures. According to The Lesser Key of Solomon - a grimoire used by magic practitioners - he can also tell someone where to find serpents. Valak rules over 30 legions of demons and is one of the older, stronger demonic entities.
In The Nun, Father Burke (Demián Bichir) carries the guilt from an exorcism that cost a young child, Daniel, his life. When Valak comes to torment him, he often takes the form of Daniel, and a snake protrudes from his mouth - a clear indicator that Father Burke is dealing with the President of Hell.
Even though the filmmakers behind The Conjuring 2, Annabelle: Creation, and The Nun portray Valak as a nun, this is not a form the demon typically takes. His standard form is a boy with wings like a goshawk who rides a two-headed dragon.
He mostly stays in child form, and according to some demonologists, his innocent disguise allows him to commit devious acts. Some say he was responsible for the Children's Crusade, the movement in 1212 CE in which unarmed children from France and Germany attempted to take Jerusalem from Muslims. Many were sold into slavery or died on the way. Some say Valak was the Pied Piper of Hamelin, leading naive children to their premature deaths.
Valak may not always take the form of a child in The Nun, but he does portray himself in another pure form: nuns. When Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) first arrives at the Romanian monastery where a nun hanged herself, she tells Father Burke she will talk to the nuns for information. Throughout the film, she believes she is talking to nuns, but in reality, Valak killed them all and is taking on their appearances to trick her.
Valak is not known to take the form of a nun, so why did the filmmakers choose this skin? According to The Conjuring director and series producer James Wan, the inspiration for Valak's nun look came from the real Lorraine Warren:
From talking to [the real] Lorraine in passing, she mentioned a spectral entity that has haunted her in her house. And it's this swirling tornado vortex with this hooded figure in there, and I remember hearing that and my first thought was, "Oh crap, that's going to be a CGI character." I didn't want to do that. And so, it kind of took me a while to cement in my head what this vision was. And it came across eventually in a very organic way. Because it is a demonic vision that haunts her, that only attacks her, I wanted something that would attack her faith. Something that would threaten the safety of her husband. And so that was eventually how the idea of this very iconographic image of a holy icon cemented in my head.
Fans of the Conjuring universe and of real-life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren are likely familiar with one of the couple's cases: the possession of Maurice Theriault. Theriault appears in The Conjuring when Ed and Lorraine describe the three stages of possession: infestation, oppression, and possession. According to the real Ed, the 1985 possession was genuine: "Maurice Theriault would bleed from his eyes. During the exorcism his head split open and we have that on film. Boil eruptions appeared on his skin, and crosses appeared all over his body."
Although the Warrens never discovered what truly plagued Theriault, the filmmakers used his case as a means to connect The Nun to The Conjuring 2. In The Nun, a French-Canadian tomato farmer who goes by "Frenchie" (Jonas Bloquet) is the first to discover Sister Victoria's hanged body. He subsequently takes Sister Irene and Father Burke to the monastery and helps save Sister Irene during the film's climatic battle with Valak. When Sister Irene asks what his real name is in order to thank him for saving her life, he replies, "Maurice. Maurice Theriault."
After Sister Irene defeats the demon and sends him back to hell, all seems fine. But just as the credits are about to roll, Maurice scratches his neck, revealing an inverted cross - a sign of the Devil. It turns out Valak is not banished at all - he escapes in Frenchie and ultimately makes his way to the Warrens in The Conjuring 2.