Why are religious horror films so terrifying? The answer might lie within humankind’s fixation with religion itself: our unending effort to determine right from wrong and make sense of the unknown. With shades of The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Haunting of Julia, the short film Daughters of Virtue delves into this obsession and hints that a demon sleeps in all of us — righteous and non-righteous alike.
Alice, a stay-at-home mother, isn’t like the other wives in her prayer group … and not just because she sleeps with married men. She balks at confessing her sins and has odd stomach pains. Naturally, the God-fearing women in her prayer group are convinced she’s possessed by the devil. But when they abduct Alice’s baby and attempt to perform a DIY exorcism, Alice fights back … and reveals she’s made of more skin-crawling stuff than they ever imagined.
The attention to detail in this film is superlative. It’s a meticulous love letter to vintage horror: from the over-the-top acting, to the sudden zooms and dutch angles, to the creamy, grainy palette. Alice, played by Sylvia Panacione (Jane the Virgin), secures the audience’s sympathy with her wide-eyed, childlike appeal and tenacity. But Maria Olsen as Betty, the holy roller matriarch, steals the film with a performance with the compelling intensity of Billie Whitelaw in The Omen, securing her in the ranks of cinema’s most frightening doyennes.
The film underscores how society continually expects women to fit into prescribed archetypes. Alice’s family and social circle only permit her to be pure. There are no compromises; any of her desires beyond being a good wife and mother are perceived as the devil’s influence. In their eyes, saying the right things and playing the part of the devout worshipper makes them godly … when the truth is they’re all more than capable of evil. The world has a long way to go towards accepting women who don’t embody one extreme or the other.
All in all, I give it 8/10 bible thumps.