Sister Death - Sister Narcisa forgot to purchase her eclipse glasses on time

Sister Death (2023) – Beautiful and Unsettling, If Not a Little Messy


Religious boarding schools seem to be a breeding ground for ghost stories and it’s one of my absolute favorite tropes for light horror. Paired with historical setting Sister Death (2023) was both beautiful and unsettling. If not a little messy.

Sister Death – Synopsis

Directed by Paco Plaza, and written by Jorge Guerricaechevarria Sister Death is set in a nunnery turned school following the events of the Red Terror of the Spanish Civil War. Young nun Narcia played by Aria Bedmar who previously had been revered for her holy visions comes to act as a teacher in place of a fellow nun, sister Ines. Soon into her new position, she begins having severe nightmares, gory hallucinations and battles the superstitions of the students, staff, and her own biases.

I should preface, this review with I might be a bit harsh for someone who has not seen the original story for this duology. Veronica is on my list of films to watch and maybe my thoughts might change upon viewing it. Perhaps you’ll have to check for that review in the future.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews you’ll know that I absolutely hate The Conjuring franchise for the exact reason that I liked elements of this film.

Not to compare, but I’m going to, The Conjuring is a cautionary tale for children depicting what happens when you don’t pray enough.

This movie however shows the realities of what could happen even when you pray enough. When you are the holiest and most devout. It’s a revenge story on a woman whose faith, personhood, and hope were betrayed.

I have a lot of qualms and praise.

Sister Death - Sister Narcisa battling her faith with Sister Julia
Sister Narcisa battling her faith with Sister Julia

First half

Sister Death is told from the lens of someone with severe trauma herself and imposter syndrome that could cripple a rockstar.

At a young age, Narcisa had a religious experience that solidified her place in her community as a visionary of prophetic and holy visions. This follows her quite closely despite her very obvious discomfort with it.

In an attempt to satiate those doubts and complicated feelings, she becomes a nun. This only enhances her visions, dreams and hallucinations. Which, shown very quickly, they are not pleasant.

If you squint you could argue that the dreams she has that involve the nuns are a sign of their dark dealings leading her to become suspicious of them in the first place, but that is taking a large leap over a small puddle.

Truthfully, I liked that she had her own things going on that had nothing to do with the school. She felt like a full person outside of the immediate circumstances.

Sister Death - Novice Sister Narcisa engaging in hallucination horrifying involving fellow sisters and students
Novice Sister Narcisa engaging in hallucination horrifying involving fellow sisters

Intermediate thoughts

I have so many complicated feelings about this and they only get more so the further you read into this article. There was so much room for an art-imitating life narrative that is equally as horrifying as gore.

I think where this Sister Death really fell off for me was the additives that watered down the amazing work to deconstruct corrupt religious organizations, the terrors of war, and intersectionality with trauma.

There was a lot of fluff within this movie that wasn’t needed. The hangman analogy, the superstition of writing your name on the chalkboard, and last for this list, but certainly not least, the targeting of the young girls within the school by the malevolent spirit.

I say this because the explanation and climax of Sister Death left no room for any of that to be present or feasible.

If I am being so honest, the first half of the movie and the last half felt like two completely separate films. One half was a Spirit Halloween sponsored haunted house and the other was a gothic commentary about the historical mistreatment of women, revenge, and grief.

Second half

I do not condone rape to be used as a tool for shock value within media. However, rape happens to women. The depiction of it in the midst of war, to a nun was not only realistic but lends credibility to a phenomenon that we can relate to off-screen. That trauma can live and thrive in physical locations well after the victims are gone.

All of this aside, I really liked the climax and explanation. They showcased completely justifiable anger by the antagonist, lent proper reasoning for a haunting to take place, and seeded a very valid explanation for the nun’s hyper paranoia and ill-treatment of the main character.

All this was shown through an amazingly cinematic dual timeline that collided the likes of two suffering women years apart. There was so much beauty and thought-provoking commentary and subpar execution.

Sister Death - Death comes for the convenrt
Death comes for the convent

What I would have done differently

This is not to say I am better than the amazing people who worked on this project. A village puts projects like these together and sometimes the village disagrees on some things. That aside, I am a writer and nosey one at that, so here I go.

It would have made so much more sense if the malevolent mother spirit was hoarding children looking for her daughter and not killing them. The children involved had nothing to do with the events that happened to her daughter. It would have been so easy for the haunting to revolve around the children if not for the simple fix of making the mother-daughter duo become the nun’s antagonists through their wards. Can you imagine if the children began to see the murdered child as a friend and mother as a maternal figure that slowly turned them against the staff?

While the MC is trying to investigate the murder she’s coming to grips with a very real bias the kids have against anyone in a habit and she has to learn why while handling her religious trauma.

This could have made for some amazing dual terror when the kids went missing. The nuns frantically looking and the kids completely chill about it. “Oh she’s with sister mother and her daughter, they’re fine.” and the nuns that enacted the murder/suicide losing their minds in the process.

Realistically this could have lent a lot more realism to the gore. What better motivator to claw one’s face off or attempt to poison your friends if not out of guilt?

However! If they were going to lead with the dual timeline and not a haunting there was no need for any of the ghost stuff to go on anyways and they could have leaned into sister Narcisa’s fragile state of mind.

Ending thoughts

As I said, my feelings are complicated and maybe you’re reading this thinking to yourself, “Well all of those things you didn’t like are explained in the second movie.” to that I say. To be continued.

Sister Death (2023) - Beautiful and Unsettling, If Not a Little Messy - Malevolent Dark
sister death sister narcisa forgot buy her eclipse glasses on time

Director: Paco Plaza

Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33

Editor's Rating:

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