Dolls are a staple of the horror genre. Puppet Master, Child’s Play, Dead Silence, Dolls, and the very underrated Magic, starring Anthony Hopkins, are a few examples. In a lot of these films, the doll is a slasher, a-la Blade or Chucky. The Communion Girl is a Spanish film, directed by Víctor Garcia, that also features an eerie doll. However, the toy is used to tell a much deeper story involving Otherness and feeling like an outcast.
While The Communion Girl didn’t quite stick its landing for me, there is far more good here than bad. Garcia tells a rich story where matters of class and Otherness are front and center. It takes some time for the story to unfold, but it’s worth the required patience.
The Communion Girl and an Unlikely Friendship
Set in 1987, The Communion Girl stars Carla Campra as Sara. She and her family move to a small town where, as Sara’s sister puts it, everyone is weird. Sara responds, however, that it’s their family who are the outcasts. In fact, their parents are uber-religious and always berate Sara about something she did wrong. They even accuse her of giving her younger sister magazines featuring “half-naked men.”
Sara feels like an outcast both within her community and within her family. There’s also a class layer to this because her snobbish Aunt Teresa (Mercè Llorens) looks down on the family, even if she doesn’t say so quite directly. She’s also a resident of the village who dresses in expensive clothing. In fact, I wish that the film did more with this dynamic between the aunt and the family. She’s an interesting but under-utilized character that could have added more tension.
Sara befriends the punky Rebe (Aina Quiñones), who quickly becomes her only real friend at school. Rebe has one of the most interesting and saddest stories among the cast. Her father is an alcoholic who constantly threatens her if she refuses to fetch him a beer or doesn’t cook his food well enough to meet his unrealistic standards. She’s also bullied at school by the richer, more popular girls. Because Rebe and Sara feel so marginalized, they connect. Their rough social environments, and their places within it, force them to in a way. They’re all that they have and come to understand each other.
The Communion Girl, a Creepy Doll, and a Tragic Story
After returning from a nightclub, having taken drugs, Sara, Rebe, and a few other friends find a doll wearing a communion dress. Not long after, strange marks show up on their bodies and they have vivid nightmares about a bloated, decaying girl trying to drown them in a well. Sara and the crew investigate the legend behind the doll and come up with varying theories.
However, the friends soon learn that the doll belonged to a little girl named Marison (Sara Roch), who went missing on her communion day. The visions they have are of that girl. After meeting her mother, they learn she was tormented and bullied because of marks on her body. She was the girl no one wanted to touch or befriend.
Marisol’s tragic story elevates this film beyond the typical scary doll subgenre. In fact, by the midway point, the doll, creepy as it is, really takes a back seat to a broader story about Otherness and feeling like an outcast. It’s also why Sara especially, and Rebe to a lesser extent, relate so much to Marisol’s story. They know what it’s like to exist on the margins.
The film really only loses the thread in its last 15 minutes, when it takes a sudden twist that doesn’t quite work or make a whole lot of sense. The Communion Girl works best when it focuses on the friendship between Sara and Rebe, the lore of the doll, and Marisol’s backstory.
Overall, The Communion Girl has a few decent scares. While I found some fault with its conclusion, I appreciate that the film uses a doll to tell a much richer story about feeling different from everyone else.
The Communion Girl haunts Shudder starting August 11. Keep updated on the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.