So, I should start off by saying that I have yet to see the other films in this series. However, since this addition was a prequel, I feel that has very little weight on the matter. The way the movie was portrayed in the trailer, I fully expected to be frightened right out of my Underoos. Alas, that was not the case. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was disappointed.
Spoilers lurk around every corner.
The opening scene, whether in movie or book form, is the defining scene for the entire story. A good opening sets the mood for the whole thing. Now, it’s obvious that the writers tried to do this with the first scene of this movie. They failed. They used characters unbeknownst to the viewers and there was no contrast in elements to shock them either.
The first scene consisted of two nuns sneaking through this darkened corridor, littered with crosses, toward a door with a message on it that reads, “Finit hic deo”, (God ends here). However, if you don’t know Latin, as many people don’t, these words are gibberish, especially considering that they were difficult to read in the first place. Now, the foreboding music is playing. Obviously, something is going to happen. One of the nuns turns the key and opens the door to pure darkness. Suddenly, she is sucked in. (Who saw that coming, right?) She yells out a warning to the other nun to run away and is gone. 30 seconds later, the nun that escaped jumps out of a window and hangs herself. The problem with all of this is that it was expected.
One of the creepiest movies I ever saw was the remake of “The Grudge” (2004), with Sarah Michelle Gellar. In case you’re unfamiliar, I’ll explain the opening scene. The story opens with a man standing on a balcony. It’s a beautiful day. There’s a slight breeze. The sun is shining. The man looks back over his shoulder toward an attractive woman, his wife, sleeping soundly in the bed. The man turns back around to look out over the balcony again. Suddenly, and without provocation, the man bends over the railing and slides off onto the pavement several floors below, breaking his own neck. The tone is set.
Let’s try another one. I’ll bring this up because I just discussed it not too long ago: “IT” (2017). This, also, had a great opening scene, in both versions. In it, a little boy is out in the rain sailing his little paper boat, made by his older brother. It’s completely innocent. Until the boy’s boat goes down a storm drain and is lost. This, obviously, is no major catastrophe, unless you throw a clown into the mix. As the boy reaches for his boat, a clown pops up in the sewer holding a balloon. Still, it’s only a little creepy, until the clown bites the boy’s arm off then pulls him into the sewer. Once again, the tone is set.
The rest of the movie was equally disappointing. What we discover, toward the end of the film, is that the abbey, from the aforementioned scene, is possessed by a powerful demon. What we also discover, toward the end of the film, is that this demon has killed all of the inhabitants of the abbey before the main characters arrive. However, despite being attacked repeatedly throughout the movie, none of the 3 main characters die. They all seem like they are about to, at various points in the movie, but, somehow, survive. One of the 3, the priest, is buried alive, by the demon, in a graveyard, in the woods, in the dark of night. No one knows what has happened to him. Yet, another of the group, the nun-in-training, happens to find him and dig him up. How could the demon kill everyone else, but not these 3? Maybe, if the priest had died in the ground, the movie would have been scarier. The mindset would be, “If the priest isn’t safe, who is?”
In “The Grudge”, no one is safe. Anyone who enters the house is instantly targeted and dies not too long after. It doesn’t matter where that person is. There is no escape. One girl is sucked right out of her own bed. Another girl gets half of her face ripped off for peaking up in the attic. The point, here, is that the ghost wasn’t playing around.
Things are horrifying when they break the rules, when they veer from the expected. This film didn’t do that. Everything that happened either didn’t make sense or was completely expected. Maybe the other movies in the series were scarier and the makers of this film relied on them too much. I didn’t see those, though. So, if they were counting on the other films to set the tone, shame on them. If you saw the other films, this one might be worth seeing, just as a way of filling in the gaps. It’s only good as an origins movie, not a scary one. I give it 3 🎃🎃🎃 out of 10: it was still an attempt at spookiness, even if it didn’t succeed. It isn’t corny. So, it would still work as a Halloween movie… sort of.