Review by Sean Boelman
Horror spin-offs are all the rage these days, taking characters from moderately successful horror movies and using them to create franchises. Just look at the Conjuring Universe — with several spin-offs based on the franchises’ villains. Billed as “from the world of Verónica,” Paco Plaza’s Sister Death is incredibly dull, mostly because there’s not enough material to justify this as a feature.
The film serves as a prequel to Verónica, telling the story of the blind elderly nun to whom the possessed teen turned to advice. Set nearly half a century before the events of its predecessor, Sister Death follows the character as she joins a school to teach young girls — only to experience terrifying visions of the supernatural.
Although Verónica was incredibly simplistic in terms of its narrative, it worked well because of how atmospheric and terrifying it was. Unfortunately, Sister Death is nowhere near as scary as the movie to which it owes its existence. There are some suddenly violent images throughout, but they are never particularly frightening — nor do they build to anything in a way that makes the conflict feel threatening.
It doesn’t help that the film feels like any number of convent-set horror flicks of the past many decades. Plaza deals in the same imagery you’re used to seeing in any Catholicism-inspired terror — mostly burning or bleeding Christian iconography. Jorge Guerricaechevarría’s script does nothing to add to the formula, nor does it add meaningfully to the mythos of this would-be franchise.
It’s a shame because Plaza is a skilled director, and he managed to attract some talented collaborators to work with on this project. The production design by Laia Ateca and cinematography by Daniel Fernández Abelló create some beautiful images that give the movie the potential to be visually hypnotic, but the writing is so underwhelming that it will immediately draw viewers out of the film.
Ultimately, what Sister Death is missing is a purpose. If this weren’t a streaming release destined to disappear in the sea of content on these services, one would almost accuse this of being a shameless cash grab, trying to milk something with little franchise potential into a usable IP. It truly feels like there is no reason for this movie to exist, as it tells a story in 90 minutes that Verónica managed to effectively tell in a single scene of exposition.
It’s also worth noting that movies like this are made or broken by their lead performances. Unfortunately for Sister Death, actress Aria Bedmar does not have what it takes. Of course, not all of the blame lies on her shoulders — one can’t do much with an incredibly bland and generic character — but Bedmar is simply never believable in the role. You never feel her fear, and worse yet, you never feel her faith.
All in all, Sister Death feels like nothing more than a massive waste of time. It’s easy to see that Guerricaechevarría was really grasping at straws when writing this. Although, who should really be surprised? It’s a feature length origin story about a character who only had a few minutes of screen time in a moderately acclaimed cult classic where her origin was already explained. It’s competently made, but that does not result in an experience that is even remotely satisfying.
Sister Death streams on Netflix beginning October 27.