Vague Visages’ Sister Death review contains minor spoilers. Paco Plaza’s 2023 Netflix movie features Aria Bedmar, Maru Valdivielso and Luisa Merelas. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Feelings of doubt smother the protagonist of Paco Plaza’s Sister Death, a prequel to the 2017 Spanish horror film Verónica. In 1949, a novice named Narcisa (Aria Bedmar) joins a religious order, approximately 10 years after she seemingly communicated with the Virgin Mary during a supernatural experience. With Sister Death, Plaza builds upon traditional elements of the possession movie by expanding his cinematic universe through cosmic horror. Interestingly, most of the film takes place in confined spaces, which makes the sun-themed exterior scenes rather effective.
Sister Death benefits from a sense of familiarity and duality. Meaning, the film converses back and forth with Verónica for obvious reasons. Plus, Sister Death is loaded with accessible imagery. Christianity looms over the protagonist quite literally, evidenced by numerous sequences in which Narcisa panics while staged under a cross. And when she learns about an internal conspiracy, Plaza doubles down by contrasting the protagonist’s white cloth purity with cosmic horror (see two confession scenes in which Narcisa merges with dark forces). Furthermore, Bedmar shares a physical resemblance with Portugese actress Alba Baptista, the star of none other than Netflix’s now-cancelled yet popular series Warrior Nun. If Verónica feels modern and chaotic, Sister Death affords the audience some breathing room as the protagonist investigates the death of a young nun and the presence of a menacing spirit.
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A trinity concept links the narrative structure of Verónica with Sister Death. In the 2017 film, the titular character (Sandra Escacena) looks after her three birth sisters. In the 2023 prequel, Narcisa looks down upon her three adopted sisters (nuns). And so this duality reminds of sacred and profane concepts that enrich so many religious works of art, such as those by the chiaroscuro master Caravaggio (a painter that I reference frequently at Vague Visages). The production design of Sister Death’s interior scenes communicates a sense of comfort and camaraderie; however, a lunar eclipse subplot hints at a darker force — one that strengthens Narcisa’s faith while allowing her to consider the bigger picture, in terms of creation and what actually guides the universe.
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Sister Death is a tight piece of filmmaking. Slowly but surely, Plaza ramps up the stakes through pulsating sound design and inventive gore. And midway through, Narcisa experiences a nightmare in which she’s smothered by her white tulle — a moment that encapsulates all the protagonist’s fears, specifically a loss of personal identity through religion. The film’s merging visuals and themes translate to classic jump scares, which also somewhat align with levitation scenes in Verónica. Overall, Sister Death displays more directorial polish than Plaza’s 2017 film.
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Ultimately, Sister Death is a performance showcase for Bedmar, who at once captures Narcisa’s humanity while channeling a dark energy from the cosmos. Through various reaction shots, the Spanish actress embodies all the confusion and terror of someone who doesn’t feel in control of their body or mind. What Narcisa does have, though, is faith in the cosmos and her fine-tuned belief system. That’s something to believe in, especially for any progressive filmmaker who works outside the Hollywood industry.
Sister Death premiered on Netflix in October 2023.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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