First premiered at last year’s Sitges Film Festival before arriving online exclusively on Shudder, ‘The Communion Girl’ – originally titled ‘La niña de la comunión’ – gets off to a brief but promising start with a violent opening scene. The movie jumps four years later, on May 1987, set in the small town of Tarragona, Spain. Sara (Carla Campra) is an introvert who’s new in town.
After attending her little sister Judith’s (Olimpia Roch) communion in a local church, she and her extroverted pal Rebe (Aina Quiñones) decided to have some fun at a nightclub. They meet two guys, Pedro (Marc Soler) and Chivo (Carlos Oviedo), with Sara having a crush on the former. Later, on their way home after hitchhiking a ride with Pedro and Chivo happen to pass by, Sara notices a little girl in a white dress crossing the road out of nowhere. Is the little girl lost, or are they imagining things, especially after the euphoric night of hard partying?
Either way, the four are being haunted one by one by the apparition of the little girl in a white dress. They even find their arms and bodies suffering from a strange infection reminiscent of blotches. ‘The Communion Girl’ features a recurring nightmare – a scene where one of these cursed victims gets dragged into a well filled with murky water. I can’t help but wonder whether director Victor Garcia, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Guillem Clua, got their well-related inspiration from 1998’s J-horror classic, ‘Ring.’ Or maybe it’s just a pure coincidence?
The Barcelona-born Victor Garcia’s primary expertise comes from directing horror movies. To be exact, B-horror movies such as ‘Return to House on Haunted Hill,’ ‘Mirrors 2’ and ‘Hellraiser: Revelations’ a.k.a. the ninth installment in the ‘Hellraiser’ film series. Surprisingly, ‘The Communion Girl’ marks the first time that Garcia finally directed a Spanish-language horror movie. The premise is no doubt a familiar one. It’s like a checklist of horror elements borrowed from other like-minded movies about supernatural things. And, of course, the ghostly girl in white haunted their victims every now and then until we have a protagonist finally seeking the truth behind the haunting in the first place.
As expected with this type of supernatural horror, Garcia incorporates familiar moments from the obligatory jump scares to the things that go bump in the night. The jump scares may have been present in ‘The Communion Girl’ but at least he doesn’t overwhelm them just for the sake of eliciting the viewers with a startling sense of fright. Frequent jump scares usually result in cheap thrills and even annoying. Garcia only used them sparingly in some scenes, allowing us to focus on the story without the constant distraction.
Credits also go to Garcia for maintaining a consistent sense of ominous dread throughout the movie. The movie is blessed with a confident pace at 98 minutes, thanks to Garcia’s efficient direction. I’m also glad Garcia and Clua’s screenplay doesn’t fall prey to the potential expository-heavy scenario, even with the expected flashbacks later in the movie.
Garcia used to work in the special effects department for movies like ‘Hellboy’ (Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 original, not the 2019 reboot nobody asked for). His experience served him well in achieving the dire look and feel of a Spanish-language gothic-horror genre set in the pre-internet era of the 1980s with the help of José Luis Bernal’s atmospheric cinematography.
Production designer Marc Pou and art director Clara Álvarez deserve equal mentions for making good use of the rural area of Tarragona, evoking the lingering fear of the unknown, urban legend, and the dark, hidden secrets in a small town. The makeup effects on the ghostly little girl in the white dress remind me of an old-school horror movie. Not to mention the movie doesn’t rely too much on CGI is a welcoming sigh of relief. Garcia doesn’t shy away from graphic violence whenever a scene is needed. It’s unapologetically mean, bloody, and brutal but never gratuitous.
Then, there’s the third act. Let’s just say it’s like Garcia pulling a rabbit out of the hat. The ending gives us something different than the usual ones commonly seen in supernatural/gothic horror. Some may find this unnecessarily convoluted. But personally, it was an interesting twist, proving even an oft-told ghost story like ‘The Communion Girl’ still has an element of surprise.
As for the acting, Carla Campra delivers an engaging lead performance as Sara, while her co-star, Aina Quiñones excels in her spunky supporting turn as Sara’s rebellious best friend, Rebe.
‘The Communion Girl’ is currently streaming on Shudder.