Hallucinatory Nunsplotation movie from Argentina that harnesses the hypocrisy and misogynistic cruelty of Catholicism to propel its aggressive feminist agenda.
It’s 1931 and Argentina is about to enter a lengthy period of political corruption at the hands of the Concordancia regime. Emilia is a rebellious anti-theist with a bohemian attitude that angers her military father. As a consequence, he adopts the Hamletarian stance of ‘Get thee to a nunnery’ and ships her off to a convent run by her steely-faced aunt.
Deprived of her subversive literature, cigarettes, and even her trousers, Emilia is forced to live in a community of mentally ill, neurodevelopmentally challenged, and murderous women deemed too shameful to exist in normal society. Auxilio means help in Spanish and Emilia is soon in need of just that as the convent becomes engulfed by a paranormal onslaught of unmuzzled sexuality and infernal carnage.
Maverick director Tamae Garateguy’s scintillating shocker has the production values of a studio period piece but the visceral heart of classic Nunsploitation. Its feminist proclivity is intelligent and incisive as it slashes at the jugular of patriarchal persecution but it’s also not afraid to hoover up every salacious crumb this garish subgenre has to offer. Yet, in highlighting a sad situation painfully common in Argentinian convents at the time the film constructs a tangible rebuttal against the religious persecution and degradation women all around the world still experience today.
Like Samuel Fuller’s Shock Corridor and Domenico Paolella’s Sisters of Satan had a devilish daughter, Garateguy’s heady psychodrama is a veritable bingo card of nun-based depravity. Nudity, filthy punishment cells, vaginal violation, a perverted priest, lesbian clusterfucks in the shower block, bondage torture, nudity, wanton masturbation, subversion of religious iconography (Christ is reinvented on the cross as a bare-breasted lady), penance rape, orgiastic butchery, group cannibalism, and of course, even more nudity.
Whatever criticisms can be laid at the film’s door concerning taste and subtlety dullness won’t be one of them. There is always something to divert and engage with as Emilia starts to have disturbing night visions and the possesional antics escalate. The nuns perceive their charges as ‘Sick, insane, and inverted’, and the residents just refer to them as ‘Fucking nuns’. This conflict behind closed doors is a powderkeg the film has no qualms in igniting to its graphically gory natural conclusion.
The sex is definitely more neurotic than erotic. Auxilio gets full marks for naturalistic and artistic intimacy but things get seriously icky when it applies the same approach to the Sado-masochistic shenanigans. Emelia does form a bond with fellow occupant Rebecca that flirts with tenderness, but even then they get their kicks rubbernecking on a masturbation addict the nuns call ‘The Pig’ as they interrupt her prestigious fingerwork with buckets of cold water.
Lensed beautifully by the talented Connie Martin Auxilio carries both a creative heft and intellectual bite that is often at odds with its explotational framework. Visually aggressive and hypnotically surreal it still elicits moments of aesthetic calm in the Catholic chaos. The deep blue habits, rural simplicity, and sun-washed cloisters are woven into a believable backdrop. Miguel Forza de Paul’s lively script is spiteful and salty with lashings of brimstone and blasphemy with lines like “Pain is the best ally for the truth”.
The possessions are depicted with the milky-eyed madness one expects from demon-infested nuns but what is really cool is that we often see the sinister entity physically manipulating them in human form. Like demonic puppeteers, they snap necks and swing limbs adding an extra layer of jeopardy.
There is also a neat twist in the tail that adds further context and texture to the narrative and a kick-ass end credits song that is weirdly addictive.
Aficionados of incarcerated women in peril type flicks, and indeed old-school Euro-horror, in general, will find much to enjoy as Auxilio loads the bases with feverish Tom-nunnery, before swinging for the fences with an outrageously violent climax.
Nunsploitation, Possession Horror | Argentina, 2023 | Cert. 18 | 80mins | Grimmfest 2023 | DelTorro Films | Dir. Tamae Garateguy | With: Cumelén Sanz, Marcela Benjumea, Martina Garello