Immaculate review — Fantastic finale forgives many sins

Directed by Michael Mohan | Written by Andrew Lobel | 89 min | ▲▲▲△△ | In Cinemas

“Nunspoitation” is a movie genre, they say. I’ve seen Black Narcissus, The Devils, and the recent good time from Paul Verhoeven, Benedetta, but one could go deep on this pretty broad selection of pictures exploring Catholicism, especially where they cross over into horror. Here’s the newest, produced by and starring the Very-Hot-Right-Now Sydney Sweeney. It takes awhile to really catch fire and overcome some conventional storytelling, but the denouement is worth sticking around for.

Sweeney is Sister Cecilia, an American noviciate who’s off to Italy to take her vows at an ancient convent somewhere in the countryside. As she’s lead around this place — the location’s exceptionally well-chosen and does most of the work — we rapidly get the gist: the younger ladies (including Benedetta Porcaroli, and Sweeney’s fellow White Lotus veteran Simona Tabasco) take care of the seniors here in this care home for old nuns, and, naturally, the men rule over it all. Amongst them the suspiciously handsome Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte).

Cecilia isn’t there long before she discovers she’s pregnant. How can that be since she’s never known the touch of a man? Cecilia is celebrated (by most, but not all) for the immaculate conception and given one of those powder-blue Mary robes, but despite the “miracle” she starts to feel trapped by both her circumstances and the dudes in charge, who won’t let her out of the convent.

You get the sense the filmmakers have seen some of those earlier gothic nun pictures given a few nice visual touches, but Immaculate is let down by a painfully obvious script and an urge to hurry the pacing in the edit. The first act or two brings a few jump scares, but in terms of creeps it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in better movies. Sweeney makes a compelling lead, but for most of the running time we don’t get much sense of how what’s happening to her — and she’s very much the victim here — is undermining her faith.

Plenty of opportunity to explore complex ideas is largely left by the wayside, though if you’re feeling around for Immaculate‘s thematic backbone this movie is definitely pointing a finger at the men in the Catholic Church as responsible for all its sins.

Then we get to the last 20 or so minutes, and the payoff is OTT and bloody.  I’ll resist saying too much about it, but it leans heavily on Sweeney’s talent for expressiveness and her hard work holding onto our sympathies. If it doesn’t entirely redeem what went before, it’s still entirely satisfying — it’s no mistake that this the first time in the movie where Cecilia has genuine agency and uses it to impressive effect.

About the author

flawintheiris

Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.

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