Six years after the success of the Spanish-language horror film Veronica on Netflix, Rec director Paco Plaza returns with a similarly spine-chilling prequel. Set in post-civil-war Spain, Sister Death follows the tale of a young novice named Narcisa who has just joined a new convent. She has some supernatural gifts and is something of a miracle girl in those parts. Now, she finds herself questioning her piety and her “vision” in this new school for young girls. Sister Death is definitely eerie and has its visually arresting moments, with some stunning cinematography. Sister Death definitely takes the cake when it comes to the best Nun of the year, though. In 2017, Veronica was a beast of a film, becoming overhyped with the title “scariest movie ever”. Personally, I didn’t watch it back then because it felt like it would be disappointing. On the contrary, I quite enjoyed the film, if that is even the word I can use. As it should, it sticks to the promise of horrifying, specifically because it is young kids who we’re watching struggle with an entity that makes the film feel so sinister.
Similar to The Nun 2 situation, Narcisa finds herself in a new place in a time of crisis and hopes to do whatever she can to make things right. There are some interesting questions posed about religion, being a nun, and the given time period in Spain. The first act of the film really sets a good tone and keeps us expectant throughout. Slowly, as the film progresses, though, the resulting situation is disappointing. Or rather, the depiction of it is disturbing for the wrong reasons. Visually, this film is masterfully unnerving, and there’s a specific scene that looks right out of a classic painting. Small details are very beautifully covered, too, and the progress of the story is well-paced. Veronica’s score played a huge role in the film and somehow added to its disturbing nature. Similarly, the first scene of the film is memorable specifically because of the score and how it plays into the scene. The setting of the film is pure terror, but somehow, the actual effect is half the speed. What I think is the problem here is that this film is committed to making an important statement, but it fails the genre because of this reason. Hardcore fans of the genre will definitely be disappointed, as was I.
Aria Bedmar delivers a terrific performance, blending curiosity, wonder, shock, and terror all in one. There is a large resemblance between Aria Bedmar and Sandra Escacena (Veronica), who play their characters too. Similar to Veronica, there’s a psychological element to this film, and it tries to push our sentimental buttons, maybe just not as well as its predecessor. There are many subtle nods to Veronica, and it is almost as if Paco Plaza wanted to somewhat mirror his older film to invoke a similar fear in his audiences. Both stories are about the line between darkness and light. While Veronica has a very clear differentiation, there’s something unique about Sister Death’s approach. Without giving away anything, it is hard to explain what I mean, but this film doesn’t follow the common rules of a religious horror film. It’s a more mindful take that delivers a deep wound.
It seems Paco Plaza also has an affinity for female-oriented films, as both Veronica and Sister Death are mainly from the point of view of women. This one is specifically helmed entirely by female actors. In order to make the film horrifying, though, there is a certain sequence that feels like abuse to watch and could’ve been easily omitted entirely. Especially in the time that we are in, we should expect a shift from such visuals, but it seems critics may not have been as bothered as me. The atmospheric nature of the film almost vanishes in the third act, which becomes more like Veronica. To me, in terms of horror, there was not much newness to this film, as in, what is supposed to be scary is the same old fake blood and bones cracking situation, but like I said earlier, visually, the film really stands out as hauntingly beautiful. I’m still thinking about that one scene.
What makes the movie so disjointed is how it switches gears too randomly in the third act. There’s a lot of potential here that will divide audiences in the end. Personally, the flashback did not work for me and felt a lot like The Nun. There are definitely many creepy elements in this film that will unnerve new viewers of the genre. On the other hand, veteran fans may find some scenes silly. This film is too much of a mix of good stuff, trying hard to please all viewers, which is what fails it in the end. There’s predictability and unpredictability, CGI horror, plus low-budget atmospheric visuals, and this might be the reason I feel so iffy about it.
There is one particular part of this film that had me wondering why a certain thing was done, but I think, again, it ties down to the gray area kind of take of this film. Maybe it’s just to add more bleakness to the already very morbid story. At the end of the day, I think Sister Death is a decent enough film to watch during the spooky season. It has its fair share of elements that can work for some and not for others. There’s no profanity, but depictions of violence, sexual assault, and a lot of gore, so tread with care. On the spooky meter, I’d give this film about 5 out of 10. There are some nice moments, but mostly, it’s nothing new. I’d rate Sister Death 3 overall because I thought there was plenty to like in it, too.