SISTER DEATH (Sitges 2023) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

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Hot on the heels of the 2017 smash Netflix horror film Verónica, icon of Spanish horror cinema Paco Plaza returns with its prequel, Sister Death (Hermana Muerte). While the original film was a satisfying but fairly pedestrian possession story largely inspired by the real life case of Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro, Sister Death extends further into dark fantasy as it outlines the backstory of one of Verónica’s most memorable smaller characters.

Written by acclaimed Spanish screenwriter Jorge Guerricaechevarría, the shadow of the Civil War hangs heavily over Sister Death which is set in a convent as the nuns and their young charges struggle to make sense of the world in the War’s fallout. The film begins with the arrival of Sister Narcisa (Aria Bedmar), who as a child had been celebrated as a religious marvel who had holy visions that brought her intense but short lived regional fame. Questioning her faith, a series of increasingly strange events in the convent lead Sister Narcisa to a horrific discovery as the brutal history of the convent is revealed, with shocking consequences that in part lead up to the events outlined years later in Verónica.

As one half of the directorial team who brought the groundbreaking Spanish found footage horror franchise phenomenon [REC] to the world, with both The Grandmother (2021) and the earlier werewolf classic Romasanta (2004) Plaza is firmly established as a key figure in contemporary Spanish horror. Sister Death does not pack quite the same punch as Verónica – if nothing else, pacing wise it takes its time to get into the meat of the story – but regardless has all the ingredients of a satisfying horror movie with a nunsploitation edge. Strong enough to be a satisfying watch but not quite able to stand on its own without its superior predecessor, Sister Death is regardless a fun Halloween Netflix essential.

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Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Alexandra Heller-Nicholas is a multi-award-winning film critic and author who has published nine books on cult, horror and exploitation cinema with an emphasis on gender politics, including the 2020 book ‘1000 Women in Horror, 1898-2018’ which was included on Esquire Magazine’s list of the best 125 books written about Hollywood. Alexandra is a contributing editor at Film International, a columnist at Fangoria, an Adjunct Professor at Deakin University, and a member of the advisory board of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies (LA, NYC, London).