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The Nun
cast: Anita Briem, Manu Fullola, Cristina Piaget, Alistair Freeland, and Tete Delgado

director: Luis de la Madrid

97 minutes (15) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
It probably seemed like a good premise on paper: a watery, spectral nun slays her murderers 20 years on, in the manner of the fates of the saints after whom they have been named. The plot transposed to the UK might not work, as there is no St Kylie or St Wendy to my knowledge. As much as this might sound like the ideal horror plot for a Spanish production, director Luis de la Madrid has royally botched it on his film The Nun (aka: La Monja). There could have been plenty of play with saints' names in relation to horrible ends as most Spaniards have more than one. Despite some goriness however there is little real trepidation or effective horror in The Nun. It is impossible to identify with or care for the dull and unimaginative characters and the ill thought out twist is no more than a bit of reckless and desperate thievery (from Angel Heart amongst others), which makes little sense. The film may not have a Kylie but it does have a Zoey, which I still find hard to believe is a real saint.

A Filmax International/ Fantastic Factory production in association with British outfit Future Films, it sports the familiar names of Julio Fernandez and Brian Yuzna overseeing and a script by Manu Diez drawing on an original story idea by Jaume Balaguero. For the most part, these are the usual suspects but filmhouse and key personnel productivity aside; their reputations have been in an increasing slump over recent years. There is little reason to enthuse over seeing The Nun and seeing it is only going to deteriorate reputations further. The Nun has been dawdling in our direction though, completed in 2005, and since then the studio and two of its directors, Balagueró (Darkness, Fragile), and Paco Plaza (Romasanta), have enhanced their status no end with co-direction on [REC]. There is, however, a gulf in the quality difference between [REC] and The Nun.

La Virgen de la Penitencia International School is an unreal educational centre in an unreal world that's populated by unrealised characters. At this point I am tempted to try and sneak out of the paragraph and close my laptop. The convent school takes in girls from around the world, though predominantly the US, the UK and Spain, coincidentally the three markets that the film is targeting and the three countries funding this film. The school seems only to have six students and they are cruelly educated by mean nun Sister Ursula, who chides one girl Eulalia on her physical disability, deserving her leg brace for no particular reason other than bitch horribleness. The convent life seems to have had some effect on the girls as in adulthood only one of them, Mary (Lola Marceli) has a daughter, the 18-year-old Eve (Anita Briem). Mary is murdered by the wet phantom in her kitchen just as she is about to fly out to Spain for a reunion with the old girls following the flaming death of the former classmate from London.

When Christy (Tete Delgado) bleeds to death following the very public loss of her arms above the elbow in a lift accident (the indignity doubled as she is drenched as a result of a touch of toilet backsplash), Eve, who has twice seen the uncanny Ursula swimming the air and then the revolving doors, registers something a little above the normal is afoot. She's alert, this girl. As Eve's best friend Joel (Alastair Freedland) and his Spanish girlfriend Julia (Belen Blanco) were journeying to Barcelona for the summer break she accepts their invite to join them with the intention of investigating the history and hopefully solving the mystery of the floating nun.

Conducting research in the library she meets a theology student, Gabriel (Manu Fullola) and admits that she doesn't understand a word of Spanish she is photocopying page upon page of. So she was going to pretend to investigate, is that it? Gabriel agrees to translate for her. The young man plans to go into the priesthood, the turning point in his life having been the loss of his girlfriend in a fatal car accident. Gabriel had been living it up like any normal young man but nobody believed him when he said he had not been drinking before taking the wheel, because, hey, this is Spain in 2005, a backward country, clearly, as they have no way of determining whether someone has been consuming alcohol or popping pills. The adult Eulalia (Oriana Bonet) has learned to hobble magnificently over the years and is crucified in her bathroom before the kids can reach her.

The survivors descend upon the deserted school and the story moves towards its ridiculous finale. There are some nice effects. The watery ghost springing in avante poses and splashing through her victims as if marking them before going in for the kill is a particularly favourable touch. The film is more adamantly cursed, though, by unnecessary nonsense and stupidity. The characters are dim and dull. They fail to respond with appropriate horror to the bloody messes left behind by the supernatural killer.

When an alternative version of what has occurred at each murder scene is presented at the end of the film in a montage pathetically hoping to evoke the closing revelations of The Usual Suspects and Angel Heart, unlike those movies it is untidy, like trying to wedge the wrong bricks into the wrong holes in an intelligence test. The dialogue is wretched and all the more irritating when references to other films are made with a couple of non-jokes from the non-characters: "Welcome to the nun witch project!" and "What is this? I know what you did 18 summers ago, or something?" come from the same pillock. Yes, almost as rip-roaringly hilarious as Kevin Williamson's "What is this? I spit on my garage?" - line from Scream. The film endears itself to us none. One for the bin, I'm afraid. Some sins are unforgivable.

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