When Verónica came out on Netflix in 2017, I saw many posts on Instagram claiming it to be one of the scariest films of all time. You know a movie is going to be terrible when Instagram posts start showering praise on it. Still, out of curiosity, I watched Verónica and found it to be forgettable and uninspiring. Now, director Paco Plaza has returned with a prequel to that 2017 film, and it's also forgettable and uninspiring. If, like me, you don't remember what happened in the previous movie, then don't worry. You can watch Sister Death without even knowing that something like Verónica exists.
In Sister Death, Plaza and cinematographer Daniel Fernández Abelló join hands to achieve a single objective: Beauty. The images are softened, and the white light has an ethereal quality to it. When a character holding a lamp walks down the stairs at night, it feels as if we are seeing movement in a painting. The nuns, illuminated by their white outfits in pitch-black darkness, pop out of the screen. Aria Bedmar, as Sister Narcisa, has a clear, guiltless face, which is why she almost merges with her religious attire to create an image of pure innocence. This purity slowly fades as the movie moves forward (shadows can be seen on her clothes), and in the end, after the transformation is complete, she appears in a black costume, and a girl calls her Sister Death.
The images, with their elegance, put Sister Death into the "art house" category. Some viewers could desperately search for substance and meaning due to this visual showboating. But beneath the shiny exterior, there is nothing. Almost every frame can be considered a painting, but there is no meat on Sister Death's body. Plaza relies on genre clichés such as hallucinations, falling objects, nightmares, and nighttime cellar exploration. Someone pounds on Narcisa's door, and someone writes her name on the blackboard. She is the Holy Girl who saw a godly vision when she was a kid, and this event is briefly shown in the beginning without audio in black and white. But did she see the real god or the devil? The people bow down in front of the little girl, and when Narcisa mentions she ran away from the noise, you are led to believe that she got fed up with being a "celebrity."
Narcisa's history sounds rich, but the movie is only interested in using her as an excuse to generate unimaginative scary scenes (jump scares, nightmares, etc.). One nun talks about being a cabaret dancer and another about liquor, and we notice traces of mischief in them. They come across as human. However, sometimes, in horror movies, humans turn out to be more dangerous than spirits. Plaza hits us with a rape scene and says, "Men are nothing but monsters." This is followed by a cover-up that offers another message to the audience, "Angels don't necessarily live in the churches and those kind sisters know a thing or two about being cruel to each other. After all, they are humans." Is any of this shocking? No. Is it even remotely chilling? Absolutely no. If the other sisters had been more than mere cardboard cutouts, the bloody revenge could have been bloody satisfying.
So basically, you are left with a horror film where the ghost, as well as the unholy message, fails to send a chill up or down your spine. Perhaps Plaza should not take the material so seriously. He has a wicked nun with him, and he should team up with the Conjuring guys to make a film about the battle between Sister Death and Valak in which both the nuns try to prove to each other how powerful they can be and then ultimately work together to kill some terrorists living in an abandoned building.
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