DECEMBER 3, 2011
For the second time this week I found myself keeping expectations in check when watching a movie that turned out to have the involvement of folks I really admire. It wasn't until the end credits of The Nun (Spanish: La Monja) that I realized that some of the [Rec] guys were involved (Jaume Balagueró, Julio Fernández), a factoid that I might have put too much stock in for a fairly routine but enjoyable "ghost seeks revenge" movie, albeit one with a silly twist at the end and a rather clunky "two group" setup.
As with many a horror movie, an old tragedy comes back to haunt some folks x amount of years later. In this case, the 5-6 girls who killed a vicious nun when they were children find themselves picked off one by one as adults, and there's no mystery to it - we see that it's the ghost of the nun doing it. In a novel twist of sorts, she only travels through water, and is seemingly formed out of it. I've watched over two thousand horror movies, but this is the first that's had a water-ghost nun as its villain. Respect.
But while most movies would just stick with this group, this one adds a group of teens to the mix; the daughter of an early victim, her best friend and said friend's boyfriend, and a love interest that they meet during their investigation. It gets a bit "busy", and the other kids never really DO anything, just sort of hanging out in the background like Indiana Jones at the end of Crystal Skull. Yet we stick with them more often than the grown up girls, which is just awkward - we know the ghost is after the girls, not these kids (or anyone else), so who cares what they're up to? It'd be like showing what's going on in other parts of Illinois in a Halloween movie instead of Haddonfield. Plus, it makes these women little more than forgettable fodder until there's only like 2 left and they start dishing out exposition and making plans (with our "hero" group still just sort of standing there).
The twist also rubbed me the wrong way, due to a rather botched execution (spoilers for 6 year old DTV movie ahead!). At the end we discover that our heroine is actually the one killing everyone, due to either a split personality or acting as a sort of "host" for the ghost. It's a bit unclear because the whole thing comes out of nowhere thanks to her friends finally DOING something, i.e. standing around and offering random theories that I guess are true (once everyone's dead and it's too late to do anything about it anyway). But also it doesn't quite hold up - her mother was seen being menaced by the ghost before she showed up at her house, so if it's a split personality it means they are cheating, and if she's just some vessel - how far can the ghost travel away from her, then?
Also, he explains all of this and then they go save her from drowning (back to the split personality idea, the last of the women shot her with a spear underwater before dying herself), and then the movie just ends as they swim out of frame. The doctor rambling at the end of Psycho is less awkward and jarring. This sort of thing should have been explained TO the girl (and a remaining target) before being dealt with, not in some sort of weird epilogue.
We also learn near the end that the Nun wasn't exactly, uh, nun-like, in that she pretty much deserved to die anyway. The hook of many of these "back from the dead to seek revenge" tales is that the person was accidentally killed and didn't deserve what happened to them. A nun who rams a steaming hot shower head up a girl's lady parts in some sort of makeshift abortion attempt doesn't exactly make for a "tragic" villain.
On that note, one thing that might have actually HELPED if I knew who the writing/producing team was (the director is Luis de la Madrid; this is his sole directing credit as he primarily works as an editor, including on Balagueró's film Darkness) was that I would not have been expecting something a bit sillier. I honestly thought that this was like a Dr Giggles or whatever, with a sadistic nun killing off teens in a Catholic high school and making wisecracks (I'd still like to see that movie, by the way). But abortion, split personalities... this is as serious as I'd expect from the folks who made things like The Nameless. Even the [Rec] movies are largely serious, only occasionally dipping into "light" material to give the audience a breather more than anything else (such as the kids with the fireworks in [Rec] 2).
But it's pretty enjoyable, and doesn't feel as long as its 101 minutes. Some of the kills are kind of awesome (elevator kill and decapitation in particular), the main girl is quite lovely to watch, and the FX are surprisingly decent for the most part. As this was a Brian Yuzna production as well (which I DID know early on since one of the characters watches one of his movies on a plane - there is no reason a fictional character would be watching a Yuzna movie otherwise), I was prepared for the same sort of thing as Rottweiler: big ideas without the money to present them properly, but the water effects are uniformly good, as are the various kills (some bad compositing aside). Since I suspect that's all most people will care about anyway, I guess you can qualify the film as a success!
Final note - at first I was sort of impressed that the screener DVD that I have (yes, I watched on a screener even though the movie has been on DVD for years) was anamorphic at 1.78:1, considering that this was a DTV Lionsgate movie and most of those were not enhanced for those of us with HDTVs. But then I discovered during the end credits that the film was supposed to be 2.35:1, so it's an anamorphic cropped transfer? I assume this was just that way on the screener, but that's kind of a bummer. Guess I need to check from now on; it's bad enough having to deal with the watermarks and the fact that most of them don't let me see the time remaining for whatever reason (it just reads --:--:-- for the whole movie), but cropped too? F that noise.
What say you?