They say that confession is good for the soul, but sinner beware that you don’t kneel before the dreaded Sister Monday, or you might find yourself a victim of A Nun’s Curse. Written and directed by Tommy Faircloth (Family Possessions, Dollface), A Nun’s Curse is the latest entry in the demonic nun subgenre seemingly revived thanks to the sinister Valak of Annabelle and The Nun fame...
...Exploring themes of memory, abandonment, obsession, and religious fanaticism, Faircloth’s film is a quiet tale punctured with the occasional scare and flashes of gore wrapped up in gorgeous hues and framed by surprising characterization and complexity.
Curse follows the slightly odd, reserved Ashley-Kae (Erika Edwards). While en route to reluctantly spend the weekend in a cabin with her sister Gabby (Kristi Ray), Gabby’s boyfriend Anthony (Damian Maffei), and their nerdy, sweet-natured friend Michael (Gunner Willis), AK--as she’s called--persuades them to stop at an abandoned, burnt out old convent so that she can take pictures of the crumbling structure as a supplement to her thesis work. AK is researching the urban legend of a figure known as Sister Monday (Felissa Rose), a resident of the convent who, after the fire that destroyed it in 1945, relocated to a nearby prison and was alleged to have begun dispensing her own personal brand of divine retribution to the prisoners in the form of poisonings and throat-slashings. AK has been obsessed with the tale of Sister Monday since her father (Jason Vail) first told her the legend as a bedtime story and she began having visions of the deranged bride-of-Christ in her bedroom.
When an unexpected thunderstorm rolls in and the crew can’t locate the car keys, they’re forced to shelter in the very prison--now also abandoned--where Sister Monday doled out God’s holy wrath all those decades ago. As AK takes advantage of the change to explore the real-life playground of her childhood fascination, she begins experiencing strange visions of the nun’s most grisly crimes. Is AK psychically linked to the nun-gone-bad? Is Sister Monday herself haunting the very cells where she once smote the wicked? Or is something else entirely going on with our heroes?
The film doesn’t have the grandest budget, but that doesn’t stop Faircloth from producing something that looks and feels professional. The effects are practical and used with precision; all of the blood looks real and every time Sister Monday strikes with her weapon of a choice, a knife hidden inside her cross, the camera knows just how much to show and how much to hide to make everything look convincing. Rose (of Sleepaway Camp fame) is also fitted with some wicked contacts when playing the spectral nun and makes for a great, noticeable costuming touch. Her overall makeup is subtle but effective, and plays well in the dim prison setting.
Of additional technical note is the lighting by Matt Maynard. The prison sequences are bathed in a neon blue that makes everything look like a painting come to life. It’s striking work, and Maynard and Faircloth clearly know how to proffer a visual feast for their viewer, as the prison itself makes for a perfect set piece of rusted iron and cracked, crumbling walls. The use of the blue hue also offers a visual connection when the film dips into its flashback scenes showcasing a younger AK (Ashley-Kae Luker) first hearing the Sister Monday stories from her dad. Though the flashbacks aren’t entirely necessary to the overall flow of the story, they do provide for some creepy scenes of Sister Monday lurking about AK’s bedroom.
Pacing is probably the film’s biggest issue. After a strong set-up where we get to know exactly who our characters are and what their goals entail, things begin to lag once the foursome bunkers down in the prison. Though we’re getting the occasional scare and witnessing the horrific deaths of the past thanks to AK’s visions of Sister Monday’s crimes, the characters themselves aren’t in any immediate danger until the last twenty minutes or so of the film, which makes it difficult to sustain the tension.
That being said, the characters are interesting enough and buoyed by capable performances that the viewer never loses complete focus and, for the most part, doesn’t mind the slower walk to the finish. Rose gives her all to Sister Monday, and it’s invigorating to see her back on screen. Maffei and Willis bring humor to their characters in different ways, one the jockey jerk and the other the try-hard geek with a heart of gold. Ray’s character was the only one who felt slightly over the top, but there’s a sense that Faircloth has written Gabby this way on purpose, and so the uber-bitch facade becomes pastiche against Edwards’ more subdued portrayal of AK. Overall, everything gels together nicely.
The film ends on an interesting note, and one that may not sit well with all viewers. It’s always a fine line when pulling a one-two punch on the audience, and if pressed, I’d say that the film works just fine using only the first twist. Regardless, there’s enough here to give thanks for, including solid acting, good use of practical gore effects, and striking lighting. A tighter middle may have helped sustain that feeling of initial dread, but any flaws are easily overlooked by the sheer (ode to) joy of seeing Rose glide around as a killer nun. May fans of slashers, Nunsploitation, and abandoned buildings find glory and rejoice in A Nun’s Curse to the end of all days, forever and ever. Amen.
Unleash A Nun's Curse when it releases on DVD and VOD May 12th from Uncork'd Entertainment.
By Craig Ranallo