I'm new to the cinematic world of director Richard Griffin, an economical HD genre puppet master who appears to idolize grindhouse offerings and the cracked mastery of Troma Films. Over the last decade Griffin has helmed nine movies, and I haven't heard of any of them. That said, if "Nun of That" is any indication of his sense of humor and command of fringe moviemaking aesthetics, I might be inclined to continue my education. A lively, potty-mouthed, blood-spattered plunge into unrepentant sacrilege, "Nun of That" delivers a wily spectacles-testicles-wallet-watch adventure, ideal for those who desire their servants of God to carry shotguns and curse like sailors.
An elite squad of vigilantes, known as the Order of the Black Habit, has just lost one of their members in a siege to bring down notorious crime lord, Momma Rizzo (Rich Tretheway). A replacement is found in a nun with severe anger-management issues, who's taken into the order through death, returning to Earth as Sister Wrath (Sarah Nicklin). Trained in the martial arts by Gandhi, armed to the teeth, and backed by Catholicism's finest armada of ass-kicking, sexually frustrated nuns (including Ruth Sullivan, Shanette Wilson, and Alexandra Cipolla), Sister Wrath hits the hard streets of Rhode Island on the hunt for Rizzo's gang, finding her match in a vicious Jewish assassin, Viper Goldstein (David Lavallee, Jr.).
Certainly "Nun of That" is pure camp, imbued with a philosophy of full-throttle silliness that permits the material access to all sorts of taboo characterizations and punchlines. What impressed me most about the film was the way Griffin mutes the overt winks, preferring to let "Nun of That" enjoy itself without the urge to remind the audience just what sort of film they're watching. Sure, the picture contains a few knowing hysterics (viewed mostly through the actors portraying the Rizzo gang), but the majority of "Nun of That" plays it cool, developing its comedy through acts of absurdity, not eye-bulging reminders.
Though crudely made, with an unfortunate reliance on CG shootouts and bodily trauma, "Nun of That" manages to convey quite a vivid world with little to no budgetary coin. Following Sister Wrath as she prowls the city streets, Griffin dreams up a colorful fantasia of grungy locations and foul characters our heroine must confront on her path to assassination, with most encounters either ending up a bullet-strewn bloodbath or with a forceful lesbian kiss (nuns need love too). To keep matters lively and appropriately twisted, the film also features Jesus (introduced through a slick techno-pop musical number), The Devil, and the aforementioned Viper Goldstein, who dispatches his victims with a bladed yarmulke.
The irreverence may not produce belly laughs, but the jokes are consistent and communicated capably by the cast. As the habit-wearing, gun-toting angel of death, Nicklin radiates teeth-grinded aggression marvelously, creating a fearsome character behind an angelic face. Nicklin handles the action choreography with required aplomb, giving her male co-stars the what-for with plausible flexibility. Line-readings are flat for most of the ensemble (another limitation of low-budget HD filmmaking), but a few of the supporting cast break through the static hold, namely Wilson as the hornball Sister Lust and Tretheway, who, as a male actor, convincingly plays a female crime boss, lording over a brotherhood of goombah stooges.
The mischievous impulses of "Nun of That" might polarize audiences (the general spanking Catholicism and its iconography receives might turn off the curious as well), but the film is rarely mean-spirited. The picture chases a freewheeling vibe of violence and inanity, achieving its desire mood through inspired direction, playful performances, and a singularly bizarre plot. And just to make sure everyone leaves happy, a Lloyd Kaufman cameo is provided.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1 aspect ratio), "Nun of That" is a homegrown release, leaving the image quality with much to be desired. Part of the problem is the inherent smear of budget HD photography, mixed with the rather sickly lighting scheme of the film. The DVD image tends to mush it all together, making everything look yellow, no matter the environment. Black levels are generally muddy, and skintones seem unnatural. Without a sizable amount of money to slap together the movie in the first place, the DVD doesn't have much to work with.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix also brings about a few problems due to low-tech filmmaking methods. The entire track suffers from distortion problems with sounds or dialogue that push the volume beyond normal, flat conversation. This seems an issue with the film's original sound mix, not necessarily the DVD's limitations. While not insufferable, the louder moments of the film encourage more grimacing than cheers.
The first feature-length audio commentary with director Richard Griffin, and producers Ted Marr and Richard Rebelo is the more technical track, discussing how the film came to be (born from a short made for the 48 Hour Film Project), costume inspirations ("Savage Streets," of all movies), the extensive cast, and various location anecdotes. The guys are supremely proud of their creation, which brings an exciting energy to their talk, making it educational and engaging.
The second track offers Richard Griffin, and actors Sarah Nicklin, Rich Tretheway, Michael Reed, Andre Bourdreau, David Lavallee, Jr., Brandon Luis Aponte, Nolan Kerr, Alex Aponte, and Nathan Quattrini. So it's a DVD commentary track and apparently a cast party! With Griffin as the interviewer, the actors are lead through casting stories, personal artistic choices, and frigid location misery. It's a friendly group, supportive and ready to laugh, keeping the conversation bright and, much like the first track, informative. It's a nice companion commentary event.
"Breaking the Habit" (28:48) is the BTS featurette, though the emphasis is on cast and crew interviews, encouraging a jovial mood of reflection on this odd little film. A generous portion of on-set footage is included to help underline the film's scrappy production achievements, but the majority of the piece is reserved for stories and philosophies, conveyed warmly by production participants.
"Original Short Film" (4:35) is the aforementioned 48 Hour Film Project submission, containing the germ of the "Nun of That" idea. The faux trailer is enjoyable and perhaps even wackier than the final film. I can't believe the filmmakers pulled an entire movie about of this.
A Trailer has been included.
My only substantial disappointment with "Nun of That" is Griffin's decision to use HD cameras to capture the mayhem. Paying homage to exploitation cinema, the picture would've been gangbusters as a scrappy 16mm dynamo (along the lines of the recent "Black Dynamite"), seizing the delicious sensation of a film actually pulled from the era. I'm sure monetary roadblocks are a concern going that route, but "Nun of That" convincingly walks and talks the grindhouse, B-movie aesthetic. There's no reason it shouldn't look the part as well.