Monday, April 15, 2024

“IMMACULATE”

THE STORY – An American nun embarks on a new journey when she joins a remote convent in the Italian countryside. However, her warm welcome quickly turns into a living nightmare when she discovers her new home harbours a sinister secret and unspeakable horrors.

THE CAST – Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli & Simona Tabasco

THE TEAM – Michael Mohan (Director) & Andrew Lobel (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes


Crowning a new Scream Queen is a time-honored tradition in Hollywood. Many have come and gone throughout the years. Still, their names are forever etched in Hollywood history as performers who can convey deep wells of emotion in a single action. These are women who go through hell and come out the other side stronger. With her saucer-shaped eyes, distinctive voice, and a body built for sin, Sydney Sweeney was clearly born to be a Scream Queen. In “Immaculate,” Sweeney goes above and beyond that title, delivering a stunning performance of ferocious fortitude. As Sister Cecilia, a devout nun who becomes pregnant at a remote Italian convent, Sweeney goes to some deep, dark places, elevating the film above your average “elevated” horror flick.

When Cecilia arrives at her new home, she’s grateful to be there. She knows God saved her from drowning in a frozen lake when she was twelve for a purpose, and she is ready for him to show her what that purpose is, whatever it may be. The convent was established in the 1600s to care for elderly nuns in their last days, and when she arrives, rebellious Italian Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) tells her that Father Sal (Álvaro Morte) has a talent for “sniffing out broken birds” like her. Despite the difficult, at-times-disgusting work, the side-eye from her fellow caretakers and the fawning admiration from the elderly nuns bother Cecilia more. After she takes her vows, the Mother Superior (Dora Romano) shows Cecilia the convent’s holy artifact, one of the nails from Christ’s cross, and she faints, dreaming a horribly violent dream. Sometime later, a medical exam reveals that Cecilia is pregnant, and the Cardinal (Giorgio Colangeli) deems it a miracle. Increasingly violent things start happening around Cecilia, causing her to doubt how much of a miracle her baby really is.

The mystery of Cecilia’s pregnancy isn’t really much of one at all to anyone who pays attention during the film’s opening act. However, to screenwriter Andrew Lobel’s credit, the film wastes no time getting to the bottom of it. He’s also structured the film smartly, alternating character-deepening scenes with scare scenes in the first half while the second half cranks the intensity up to 11. Director Michael Mohan, reteaming with Sweeney after their sleeper streaming hit “The Voyeurs,” paces the film well across its blessedly short runtime, moving quickly but giving the horror space to breathe. Mohan and cinematographer Elisha Christian fill the first half with a dread-inducing atmosphere, making especially strong use of candlelight in the film’s nail-biting night scenes. Jump scares abound, accompanied by a sound mix that punches them up far too much, but it’s Mohan’s knack for building atmosphere and sustaining tension that really makes the film as scary as it is.

The more hardcore horror lovers don’t have to worry, though, as there’s plenty of skin-crawling gore on display. The film’s third act goes full-tilt into body horror, dousing Sweeney with buckets of blood and employing some gnarly prosthetics on several cast members. The violence on display is absolutely brutal, lingering on powerfully painful images soundtracked by Sweeney’s emotional screams. Those with an aversion to violence against women would do well to stay away, as the visceral violence is incredibly upsetting. It’s used as powerful, if blunt, commentary on how the Catholic Church’s doctrine violates women’s rights to their own bodies, so it’s not without merit. For many, though, it will go a step too far, and that’s before getting to the film’s brutally ballsy, incendiary ending.

The last scene of “Immaculate” will undoubtedly divide audiences. At once an act of righteous reclamation and an act of violence so brutal that Mohan won’t even show it, it’s an uncompromising, bold statement to end on. The scene rests entirely on Sweeney’s performance, and the actress digs deep inside herself to deliver the best performance of her young career. Regardless of one’s feelings about what happens, Sweeney’s talent and commitment are impossible to deny, as every difficult, painful decision plays out across her face in one unbroken take. It’s a stunning scene, made all the more stunning as the culmination of her performance across the entire film. She brings an extremely pure quality to Cecilia that makes every emotion land in a big way without ever feeling over the top. Her innocence at the start gives way to confusion when the men of the convent are grilling her about her pregnancy, which melts into a surprising mixture of sadness and fear when she accepts it as fact. As the horror escalates and Cecilia learns the convent’s hidden secrets, the fear deepens into desperate terror and finally leads to a formidable resolve. It’s an incredibly impressive display of range that will hopefully lead to even bigger and better things for the actress. Without her, “Immaculate” would be little more than a “Rosemary’s Baby” riff set at a convent. With her, it’s a bold and bloody ride that will leave your soul shaken.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Sydney Sweeney delivers her best performance yet as a horror heroine for the ages in this atmospheric, bloody piece of nunsploitation.

THE BAD - The mystery isn't much of a mystery at all. The intense, blood-soaked ending will be a bridge too far for many.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Sydney Sweeney delivers her best performance yet as a horror heroine for the ages in this atmospheric, bloody piece of nunsploitation.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The mystery isn't much of a mystery at all. The intense, blood-soaked ending will be a bridge too far for many.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"IMMACULATE"