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The Convent
(2000)

Director: Mike Mendez   
Cast:
Joanna Canton, Richard Trapp, Dax Miller


Certain groups of people have suffered from much mocking over the years, and that includes nuns. Let me give you an example of the kind of abuse I have observed from many sources about nuns through the years. A story to be exact, one that takes place in the golden age of the high seas and clipper ships. Seems there was this captain of one of those ships that was worried about his crew. It seemed that every time they left port to go on a long sea voyage, the members of the all-male crew would soon find themselves engaging in a deep kind of "man-love". The captain soon came up with a solution for this - he brought on the ship a large barrel with a small hole on its side. Instead of engaging in deep "man-love", the members of the crew would get rid of their urges through this hole. The ship left port on its voyage, and the barrel proved to be a big success, so much so that when the ship got back to home port, the barrel was completely filled with... well... you know. It seemed like a waste to the captain to throw all this stuff away, so he sold the barrel's contents to the local wax manufacturer to be recycled. (I'm just reporting this story, not writing it.) The ship soon went on another long voyage, and the barrel got filled up again during the voyage. But when the captain brought the newly-filled barrel to the wax manufacturer, this time the wax manufacturer rejected it. You see, the wax manufacturer was in trouble. Seems he used the fluid to make candles, sold all the candles to the local church, and now all the nuns were pregnant.

Now, this is the part of the review when I state that I have thought long and hard about this topic (abuse towards nuns) over the years, and that I have come up with some answers over this time. But to tell the truth, this is one subject that I have not given that much thought to towards the years. My usual train of thought goes towards movies and the motion picture industry, where I think about stuff like, "If Roger Ebert is correct about his repeated claim that there is a large audience for foreign and independent films, why has no one tried to exploit this by building a chain of theaters devoted to showing these films?" When I have thought of certain groups of people that have gotten abuse over the years, I usually think of groups that in my opinion deserve that abuse (mainly mimes - I hate hate hate those guys.) So I haven't given myself that much time to think about why nuns have been mocked so much. But actually, as I have been writing the above, several likely reasons did come to mind, reasons that didn't need that much thought to come up with. The most obvious reason is the one that comes even with a quick glimpse of them - their dress. Although some modern nuns don't wear those cumbersome outfits in the field, the majority of the time they wear those "classic" outfits that quite frankly could be considered to look ridiculous in this modern age. The second reason is pretty obvious with a quick glance as well - the fact that they are women. Women in some sort of position of power makes some people uncomfortable, and that can provoke some kind of backlash.

There are other reasons explaining the negative view of nuns that come up just as easily as the two that I wrote above. There is the fact that these women are married to God, something that seems very weird to some people. Related to that is the fact that nuns are not supposed to have sex, The Conventsomething that seems very hard to do for many people, male or female. Anyway, after coming up with all of those reasons, that finally breaks a long streak where I have pretty much blanked the idea of nuns out of my mind. All of my movie watching hasn't given this train of thought much of a break, for a pretty good reason - up to now I have found movies concerning nuns to be awful to sit through, so much so that I haven't been seeking them out. Such awful experiences include Nasty Habits, The Trouble With Angels, and the sequel Where Angels Go... Trouble Follows. Now, I have heard of several "nunsploitation" movies over the years (mostly from Europe) that I thought sounded nifty (exploiting nuns in various ways), but my local video stores never got them in stock. It took a while, but I finally saw what could be considered a nunsploitation movie with The Convent. Despite my bad experiences with nun movies over the years, the good reports I heard about this movie made me decide to give it a chance when I first watched it shortly after its release. The movie concerns a group of college students who, for kicks, decide one night to visit a long abandoned convent where decades earlier a horrific incident forced its closure. There, they eventually cross paths with a bunch of Satanists, but that eventually turns to be one of the least of their problems, since there are evil spirits close to be awakened...

I realize that the above plot description is pretty brief. But that's a choice I made because I want potential viewers to get as close as possible to the experience I had when I first watched the movie. I knew close to nothing about the movie, so I was very surprised - in a pleasant way - by just about everything that happened. I will probably have to reveal a few spoilers to help me convince you readers to watch this movie, but I'll try to keep them as minor as possible. The first surprise was the opening scene of the movie. I won't mention exactly what happens (and don't read the back of the DVD box, because it spoils this opening scene), but I will mention that the unbelievable carnage that spews forth in this scene left me agog, and when I showed the movie to a friend shortly afterwards, he exclaimed out loud at the end of this scene, "If the rest of the movie was just about the mating habits of slugs, I would still love this movie!" I will admit that when I had earlier watched the movie for the first time, I was thinking something along those lines right after seeing all of that unbelievable stuff onscreen. At the same time, though, I was wondering if the filmmakers would be trying hard to deliver anything else like that in the rest of the movie. That question of mine was firmly answered at the climax of the movie. The carnage that is spewed forth in the climax without doubt at least matches the carnage in the opening scene - possibly even surpassing the opening, since it displays more of a variety of kinds of mayhem and blood spilling.

Some of you may be wondering if in the big stretch of the movie between the bloody beginning and the splatterfest climax, if there are any scenes mayhem that matches those two points in the movie. To tell the truth, there isn't. However, there are several short bursts of violence in the middle that, even by themselves, are pretty pleasing. Since I have kept the movie's beginning and climax a secret, I think I can tell you we get things like a face peeling, a nasty bit involving a tongue, and one memorable bit with a flashlight that would probably please Peter Jackson. Now you may be wondering that if the middle part doesn't contain much bloody violence, what does the movie do instead to try and entertain the audience. The answer is that it makes frequent attempts to make the audience laugh. The Convent is a very jokey movie, doing anything it can to mine humor out of almost every scene. The sound of this may put some of you at unease, but let me assure you that much of the humor in the movie actually works. A large part of the reason why it works is that the cast is filled with people giving enthusiastic performances. Take rap star Coolio, who, despite his wild hair style and facial hair, is cast in the small role of a policeman (!) This may sound terrible (and I have to admit that Coolio in other movies has not exactly pleased me), but Coolio goes so far over the top in his performance, screaming stuff like, "The youths destroying their lives with this marijuana substance!" that I found myself laughing out loud. Another funny performance comes from David Gunn as Saul, the leader of the movie's devil worshippers. With his silly high-pitched voice saying silly things, it was a perfect combination that tickled my funny bone.

Then there is the appearance towards the end of the movie of a certain B movie star that many people will recognized, even if they don't know this person's name. (Don't you dare spoil the surprise by looking up this movie at the Internet Movie Database, okay?) Unlike most of the other actors in the movie, this person plays it pretty straight, but still manages to generate some amusement by the hard-line attitude this performer gives the assigned character. At this point, probably a lot of you are thinking that The Convent is starting to sound like some sort of B-movie classic. While it comes close to this at times, and is definitely a good movie that is worth seeking out, it does have several problems that somewhat spoil the chance of enjoying it fully. Most of these problems can be traced to the fact that the movie only had (according to my research) a budget of about a million dollars. While the end results do beat a number of other microbudgeted movies (and are probably better than if I was the director), the cheapness of the movie rears its ugly head a number of times. The abandoned convent interior is obviously shot on sets, sets that have little to no dressing. The lighting is awful throughout; Coolio's face looks like a black blob in some shots, and while the restaurant scene has the players in the foreground lit, the background is too dark for anyone there to read the menu. While I'm on the subject of the restaurant, I would also like to point out that this restaurant seems to have no bathrooms, forcing patrons to use port-a-potties outside. Still, The Convent is overall a worthy movie to put on anyone's resume, showing you can still find room to shine even in poverty-row circumstances.

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See also: Prison, Slaughter High, Slaughterhouse Rock

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