Horror-lujah (sorry not sorry), it’s Horror Month at last! We’re kicking off the best month on the Blog Collab with a classic yet underrepresented genre: nun horror. And, seriously, the nuns here are much more likely to join forces with Pinhead than feed the hungry or tend to the sick.
A young pregnant woman turns to a convent for help…only to discover the Sisters choose to do the Lord’s work using rather sinister methods.
In 1957 Georgia, the aptly named Mary runs away to a secluded convent in the woods, of course in the creepiest, most dilapidated building imaginable.
Pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and on the run from her abusive father, Mary has nowhere else to turn. Noticeably absent is her little brother William, with whom Mary planned to escape, as well as any cash whatsoever.
Mary receives a rather chilly welcome from Sister Paula, who cautions that the shelter provided by the convent comes with a price: Mary must leave behind all connections to her former life and take a vow of silence. Her only concern now should be the approval of Mother Superior, who is something of a piece of work.
Believing the world to be a place full of sinners, bars on the windows protect the Sisters from evil outside forces…or do they prevent all who live in the convent from making an escape? According to Mother Superior, pain brings you closer to God, a message that does little to soothe Mary as she hears the sounds of crying and screaming from behind locked doors.
The only friend Mary can find is her roommate Catherine, who is also pregnant. Her other roomies live in perpetual terror of the Sisters and all have plenty of horror stories about their experiences at the convent.
Meanwhile, the Sisters seem more preoccupied with earthly concerns than sticking to that vow of silence as Mother Superior sits around counting her money and preparing for a dinner with their mysterious benefactors. When Mary learns that all of the Sisters are or have at some point been pregnant, she grows even more suspicious. Add to this Mother Superior’s constant gaslighting and warning that Mary is too irresponsible to raise her own child, and this is more or less the final straw.
Frightened for her own well-being and the future of her child, Mary decides to make a break for it. However, when things don’t go as planned, Mary winds up in the secret underground torture basement in the convent (what–you’ve never heard of a convent with a secret torture room?). Mother Superior will never release Mary until she accepts her old life is over…and in her new life, she is now Agatha.
Who will win the battle of wills between Mary and Mother Superior?
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
For a film in which almost all of the major characters have taken a vow of silence, there is a LOT of dialogue here. And while some of it is effective, a lot adds very little value to the film.
Let’s start with the unnecessarily tragic backstory of Mary, (SPOILER) involving her father’s abuse, brother’s death, and descent into poverty with her boyfriend. I’m not sure all of these details tie in well to the story, and are merely tacked on to elicit sympathy for Mary–and to help us understand why she may be so desperate that she’d willingly stay at the convent from hell.
I do certainly feel for Mary, but the creepiness of the convent is immediately apparent, and it makes no sense the number of horrific things she puts up with before thinking that maybe–just maybe–she should get the eff out.
However, the ambience is quite well done: the suspense created because of the dilapidated building in the secluded, foggy woods comes through well. And there are truly horrendous things going on inside, most of which relate to an oral fixation. The psychological terror is effective as well, with the nuns, who are demonic yet do not have any demonic special powers, very easily manipulating their victims through emotional abuse.
I will give this film credit for its ambition as well; if I interpret it as intended, the story is a major critique of the church’s abuses historically and into the present. The hierarchical structure of the church has allowed for the systemic physical, sexual, and psychological abuse of pregnant women, young children, and indigenous people in particular. Though this is a horror film, some of the tactics employed by the Sisters have been used to abuse and manipulate victims, as well as to silence them. While they claim to do the Lord’s work, the Sisters’ motives are no different from a for-profit corporation: money and power.
But, in the end, the story isn’t as well thought-out as it could have been, and its message doesn’t come across in a way that’s as clever as it thinks it is.