Movie Review: Redeemed by the Blood in ‘The Convent’ (2019)

I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect going into The Convent (2019), the latest film from director Paul Hyett (The Seasoning House, Howl). While I am a sucker for religious-themed horror, since the ungodly success of The Conjuring 2, and more specifically the Valak character that spawned The Nun spinoff (our review here), creepy nuns seem to be all the rage. This would be fine if they were all James Wan caliber, but unfortunately most don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

I gritted my teeth, anticipating yet another unbearably awful Nun-wannabe (Nun-abee? Nevermind, forgive me Father), fully expecting to demand some serious atonement. The cover art didn’t exactly bolster my faith. But as it turns out, you really can’t judge a book solely by its cover. The Convent actually had more than just a hope and a prayer to stand on.

Poster art for Paul Hyett's The Convent
Poster art for Paul Hyett’s The Convent

The Convent opens by introducing us to Persephone (Hannah Arterton), a young woman accused of witchcraft in 17th century England. She is being held prisoner and awaiting trial by the local magistrate (Michael Ironside) to determine her fate. All hope seems lost until the mysterious Reverend Mother (Claire Higgins – Hellraiser 1 & 2), the mother superior of a local convent, speaks up on Persephone’s behalf. She manages to get Persephone’s pardon, and offers her sanctuary and absolution, on the condition she stay at the secluded priory with the other Sisters, making atonement for her wicked ways.

But what seems like an opportunity at redemption quickly turns to torment. This isolated little abbey has had a long and troubling history of death and disease, and its current occupants are no exception. In addition to a rampant plague of fever quickly weeding through the hapless parishioners, Persephone is troubled by horrific visions and senses a dark presence stalking these halls. As a malevolent evil begins closing in around them, Persephone and her new found friends not only must battle for their lives, but for their very souls.

Salvation comes at an awfully high cost for the sisters at The Convent
Salvation comes at an awfully high cost for the sisters at The Convent

The Convent actually exceeded my admittedly low expectations. Most period pieces carry along at a slow-burning snail’s pace, but not so with this relentless beast. There’s no drag in this brisk hour and 21 minute chiller. It was also quite a lot bloodier than I ever imagined. I detect a very strong Fulci influence running through these veins, in the look, the grimy feel, and the gory savagery. There’s also a great deal of violence visited on eyeballs, another homage to the Italian maestro. The performances were solid for indie fare, and it was really cool seeing Hellraiser‘s Claire Higgins back in action in a suitably sinister role as the stern-handed Reverend Mother.

But not all is rosy in the rosaries. While there are some strong visuals, and they nail the aesthetic, the picture is awfully dark, making it hard to appreciate the gothic beauty. I suppose it was done to enhance the jump scares, which we are treated to a couple effective startles. But it tends to be distracting more than anything. There’s also some incredibly terrible CGI, which really kills the mood. This is especially disappointing, since director Paul Hyett first really made a name for himself as a makeup and effects artist. His expertise shines through when practical fx are used, but that just makes the CGI stand out that much worse.

Not much light in the oppressive dark of The Convent
Not much light in the oppressive dark of The Convent

Final Thoughts

The Convent is hardly a masterpiece, but it manages to be a better than average indie horror flick good for a few thrills and chills. The oppressive atmosphere and ample violence pushes this beyond your standard nunsploitation nasty. It’s no world-beater, but there’s worse ways to spend an evening. For a little darkness and damnation, come confess yourself at The Convent. It landed on VOD in the U.S. on May 3rd, with a DVD release expected around June 4th.

About Matthew Solomon

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