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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

The Nun [2018] * * *

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What James Wan does for new genre directors is commendable, helping them early in their career with great opportunities like this (he even personally recorded some external shots for Corin in this film), but this is a risky business.

He was right about David Sandberg in "Annabelle: Creation", but now he messed up with Corin Hardy, who wastes a spectacular setting and an instant horror icon with a lazy and uninspired direction.

But let's take it slow. First the good points.

The big star of the film is the abbey and its variety of scenery: the dry forest around, the little convent outside the main building, the rustic cemetery (stage of a frantic sequence at night), and the huge and gorgeous castle where the nuns live cloistered without contact with the outside world.

The castle has several rooms that are constantly visited by the characters creating a sense of familiarity with each: the claustrophobic entrance hall where Mother Superior lurks in the shadows, the small cold room where the groceries (and "something" more) are deposited, the labyrinth of corridors in the deep and abandoned part of the castle where the demonic presence is stronger and causes distortions in reality...

The atmosphere is well built and, like the other films in this universe, mixes realism with an amusement park vibe, but is noticeable the difference in tone, which is much darker here.

The greatest achievement of "The Nun" was to create a really oppressive and evil atmosphere where a simple walk through the corridors requires a lot of courage. I loved the scene where Sister Irene talks with another nun in the kitchen with her back to a door facing a dark corridor. The feeling is that they're eternally hiding, in an endless state of alarm and despair.

This is what a horror movie should try to achieve: to make the viewer recreate a scenario and its atmosphere inside their head, having fun fantasizing about the possibilities, and feeling afraid of being in that situation.

The nun has a presentation worthy of a horror icon. Bonnie Aarons' Valak again is a sight to behold. The screen comes alive when her shadow appears in the dark corridors. Her apparitions are treated with due expectation and restraint until the climax (perhaps too much restraint in some scenes but the end compensates for the earlier lack of exposure).

Taissa Farmiga delivers a satisfying performance, balancing sheer fear with great determination and courage. Just as her older sister, Vera Farmiga, does with Lorraine, Taissa keeps her Sister Irene afraid from start to finish but also always moving forward without stopping or thinking about giving up.

Now, the bad part.

Unfortunately, for most of the movie I felt frustration over the wasted potential. Beautiful scenarios, each with a perfect atmosphere serving as the stage for very fast scenes and with very predictable jumpscares.

The fault lies with Corin Hardy's simplistic and uninspired direction that lacks the elegance and perfectionist framing of James Wan or David Sandberg.

Hardy can't subvert the expectations of an audience ever more attentive to the genre's clichés. When it's not the timing that ruins the jumpscare, it's the camera position!

It's a crime not to get the most out of such a spectacular setting!

At times I simply wanted a more centralized framing that filled the screen with the set's details, but the camera insisted on a crooked, distorted or very close shot.

In one scene, two characters talk in a beautiful garden made in geometric shapes but the camera insists on filming with a crooked frame that destroys the image. In another scene in a beautiful little chapel with a huge crucifix (that later collapses), the frame cuts the crucifix in half and takes no advantage of the architecture of the place. Like I said, it's frustrating!

There's no memorable creative moment like the scene where the entity lifts the girl's hair in "The Conjuring" or the toy gun scene in "Annabelle: Creation". Here it's more like a collection of little basic scares in a row. The situation changes but the scares continue to follow the same basic style without any extra touch of creativity (like the demon standing on the stairs in the first "Annabelle" or the sound of increasingly close footsteps in the water well scene in "Annabelle: Creation").

Demián Bichir's Father Burke has his relevance diminished throughout the film and, in the third act, he becomes almost a spectator even though he's the most experienced character.

Jonas Bloquet's Frenchie is the weak and unnecessary comic relief of the film. He seems completely out of place amid so much darkness and oppression. It's a good thing that the guy has charisma, which makes his little jokes less irritating, but even so, in the end it becomes clear that he's only a plot artifice that, in a mechanical way, fulfills his function of making the experience more palatable to the casual public and create cheap solutions for moments of confrontation while helping to destroy some of the tension, and proving the film's laziness to provide creative solutions.

The ending is very safe and uses the same idea of an earlier movie by Wan, but it doesn't even come close to causing the same commotion. And like "Annabelle: Creation", the ending has a direct link to another film from the franchise, but this time the link sounds forced and messy because it recreates a scene clearly using a different actor, possible breaking the illusion in future revisits to the film that had its scene recreated.

Other observations:

- One of the main concerns from fans was in relation to what was presented about Valak in "The Conjuring 2", which was supposed to be contradicted by the nun's appearance in another film. But "The Nun" presents a simple explanation completely in accordance with what had already been established previously.

- The film moves like a survival horror game where the characters explore places to find items (old books, a rosary with a key, a relic containing the blood of Christ...) that allow them to go on or explain to them more about the plot. All very direct and too convenient, but they serve the purpose of continuing the fun exploration of the castle.

- There are two scenes in the third act that reminded me a lot of the famous Nurses scene in the first "Silent Hill" movie, but without the same impact or elegance in the making.

"The Nun" fulfills the promise of being the darkest chapter in "The Conjuring Universe", with mixed results. On one hand we have the consolidation of a new horror icon and a great oppressive and relentless atmosphere worthy of comparison with the best Gothic horror movies, but on the other hand we have an uninspired direction that doesn't take total advantage of the gorgeous sets, that can't subvert the predictability of the jumpscares with creative touches that made the difference in the other films of this universe, and that chooses a safe and unexciting path that contradicts its own bloody atmosphere.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

School of the Holy Beast [1974] * * * *

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[*Spoilers*]

This Japanese nunsploitation "School of the Holy Beast" (aka "The Transgressor") is a blend of drama, comedy, horror, eroticism, and mystery that never stops to amaze and entertain the audience.

It's strange to relate the Catholic religion to Japanese culture, and sometimes the film seems more like a foreign view of how things work in convents around the world, but it works to create a pulsing storyline full of fun subplots and unique features.

One of the aspects that caught my attention is how the film continues to surprise with revelations. There are several subplots that give life to the abbey and make secondary characters interesting: the theft, the spy, the pornographic photos...

However, instead of diluting the central conflict involving the SUPER dramatic conception of the protagonist Maya (involving rape, torture and death by hanging inside the church on Christmas Day!!), these subplots are organically distributed during the film, with no clear indication where one begins and ends, and in the end, they all converge in a single point, like branches that come together to form the tree trunk.

It's quite satisfying to see all the dots connecting during the movie, with no loose ends.

Another interesting point is how the film establishes a hierarchy among nuns and uses it as a catalyst for conflict. The nuns have different habits: the more white parts, the higher is the level of that nun, since white represents the purity that all should aim for.

That is, the novices have their habits almost all black, while the teacher nuns (yes, because above all, the abbey is a school for nuns) have their habits almost all white.

Ironically, what we see during the film is that the whiter the habit, the more sadistic is the nun who uses it.

Later appears a "bride", a nun with an all-white habit. She's by far the most cruel and sadistic of all, and here represents the film's version of the Holy Inquisition. She uses highly questionable torture methods to get out the "truth" that she wants to hear. Like a videogame sub-boss, she has a fun fight against the protagonist near the end.

Another interesting aspect is the elegance with which the film conducts its scenes of nudity and torture. As for example, the scene of lesbian sex (element almost obligatory in a nunsploitation), is filmed between flowers and without showing genitalia.

Even the bloody punishments are beautiful. For example, in the 13th Punishment, Maya is tied with huge prickly branches while the nuns whip her using rose bouquets full of thorns. A gorgeous rain of blood and petals.

Other observations:

- Great direction during the scene where two nuns are forced to whip each other with their breasts out to the delight of the superior nuns.

- There's a hilarious rebel nun who is extremely straightforward in her words. She exposes their hypocrisies about sex, beats nuns when they try to punish her, and threatens them with a knife. She's the most loyal and real person in the convent. Great sidekick.

- The vice abbess rape scene would blow millennials' mind, but here it's just another joke.

- The film has several creative deaths, such as an acid bath, and good practical effects.

- The villains still have strong moral concepts and suffer for their past sins. They are hypocrites who continue to sin and suffer from it.

"School of the Holy Beast" is a very entertaining little box of surprises, with good direction, acting, production, and a surprising elegance in its most explicit scenes.


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Biscoito18 [2018] FILM

 

Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun [1977] * * * *

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"Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun" is a more dramatic nunsploitation, with a more realistic atmosphere, which ends up making events more shocking as it becomes something quite believable.

This movie had serious problems with censorship and, watching it, the reason becomes clear. Not only does it, like most nunsploitation, have plenty of nudity, but it also has some graphic details that elevate it to almost a soft porn. Many close-ups on female genitalia, various methods of torture, rape (including one committed by Satan himself), and even a false ejaculation on a girl's face.

The villains are two really detestable and audacious psychopaths. They're a group of Satanists led by Father Vicente (William Berger) and Mother Alma, the Grand Priestess (Ana Zanatti in an excellent performance), who use the convent as a facade to practice their profane rituals that always include a lot of sex and blasphemy.

The nuns masturbate with crucifixes and practice lesbian sex in their luxurious blood-colored beds. The priest masturbates listening to a 16-year-old virgin's confession in the midst of a crowded church, completely shameless. They pray to the lord of darkness, torture themselves with medieval instruments, and offer their bodies and their suffering to Satan in ecstasy.

Here physical suffering doesn't purify. In fact, it stains the soul.

During the film, it's possible to notice several similarities with "Rosemary's baby". In particular, a fertility ritual where Satan himself manifests physically to impregnate a woman. But, unlike the classic of '68, here the scene is very explicit and even trashy in relation to the almost comic form in which Satan materializes. In addition, unfortunately, this subplot is abandoned throughout the film.

Another great positive point is the beautiful scenery used during the recordings, all in Lisbon, Portugal. Wonderful castles and stone constructions create an enviable atmosphere that no production, however good it might be, could recreate.

Unfortunately, in the end, the film prefers to bet on an unbelievable and crowd-pleasing outcome rather than following the cruel logic that was already established, breaking much of the impact in the final moments.

"Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun" is a depraved tale about the blind obedience of a lamb going into the claws of wolves disguised as shepherd dogs. An almost perfect disguise, but lustful eyes do not lie.


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