Director and co-writer Ruben Islas does not pull punches in Final Vow, an action-adventure drama centered on human trafficking. Sister Anne Marie (co-writer Christina Urias) is a Catholic nun who works in an orphanage in Mexico, helping place children into what she hopes are loving homes. She comes to her occupation with a dark past filled with trauma, which makes her a diligent fighter against human trafficking. She is immediately suspicious when an American couple shows interest in adopting a mature-looking 15-year-old girl.
Sister Anne Marie pleads with the priest, Father Phillip (Mauricio Mendoza), not to allow the adoption. However, he proceeds anyway, and viewers will soon learn the depth and breadth of the corruption that enables human trafficking. She follows several leads to track the girl who was adopted. That quest leads her down a grim path of discovery and personal danger. She is assisted by members of an organization called Talitha Kum, which is, in the real world, a group of Catholic nuns who do the same service in the fight against human trafficking.
Islas shows a willingness to go to extreme violence and depravity to impress upon the viewer the gravity of the danger presented by the traffickers and those who benefit from their deeds. The film is reminiscent of Sicario in this way. No one is spared the shockingly casual violence resulting from any resistance. Anyone who stands up to the criminal element is immediately eliminated. The nuns also get licks in, and before the credits roll, the considerable body count is impressive.
“…a Catholic nun who works in an orphanage…a diligent fighter against human trafficking.”
Final Vow shares an unlikely combination of DNA between the over-the-top violence one might see in an exploitation film and the sincere “we need to talk” gravitas of a very important episode of an after-school special that wants to get the word out. This is an incredibly effective approach to raising awareness of human trafficking. However, it means the viewer may feel a slight sting of guilt at enjoying the gunplay.
There are undoubtedly many, far too many, of these stories. An inventive producer might consider this a jumping-off point for a ripped-from-the-headlines series of films or streaming episodes in which badass nuns go out for Talitha Kum to kick a*s and take names. But, again, that would be a perhaps too-sensational approach to a very serious subject, even if it would raise awareness. The film art quality and performances are up to snuff with no missteps. Urias gives us Sister Anne Marie with authenticity and passion. The other characters believably orbit around her as the tale unfurls.
The actual Talitha Kum mission statement reads, “The strength of the Talitha Kum network lies in its bottom-up, grassroots engagement and in its person- and community-centered approach, which ensures proximity to victims and survivors of trafficking, their families, and those at risk of exploitation.” We learn more about the organization and the scourge of trafficking in cards that appear before the opening credits and end credits, presented in both English and Spanish. Final Vow is an entertaining film in the service of a worthy cause.
"…an entertaining film in the service of a worthy cause."