Positioned as a mid-budget indie from NEON and directed by Michael Mohan, IMMACULATE is produced by and stars Sydney Sweeney as a young novice nun who takes her vows at a remote convent and spends her days caring for elderly and dying sisters. Over a short period of time, she starts to see that things in this holy place are more sinister than they appear, and when she is mysteriously found to be with child, despite never being, biblically speaking, with a man, things quickly go from scary to terrifying for our heroine. There is an opening scene that shows a nun trying to escape from the convent and is beset by strange holy figures with their faces covered in red cloth, that wound, capture, and dispatch of her pre-credits. While this was an attempt to heighten the stakes before we meet Sydney Sweeney’s character, this ultimately could have been left on the cutting room floor and it would have driven the “creep-factor” up a few notches.

The set up for IMMACULATE is very effective. You have an American girl in a strange country where she doesn’t understand the language and weird things start happening around her is a great way to create an atmosphere of “otherness” to American or other English-speaking audiences. It allows us to be in the shoes of the protagonist in a more immersive manner. I almost wish they didn’t subtitle the Italian dialogue to deepen that experience more. As a side note, for folks that aren’t a fan of reading subtitles, be ready to for this movie because a high percentage of the film is subtitled. The location of the film is beautiful, and the starkness of the interiors, mostly lit by candlelight in the night, and littered with creepy holy iconography hints at terror inhabiting any and all shadows.

Sydney Sweeney plays Sister Cecilia, an American who was sought out and brought to this convent to take her vows and serve her sisters by Alvaro Morte’s Father Sal Tedeschi, a handsome middle-aged priest who comes off as a modern-thinking ally to Cecilia at the start. The movie has many wonderful performances by actors that ultimately don’t matter much to the plot of the film as a whole, and mostly serve as either meat for the grinder or as red herrings as the movie delves deeper into itself. The act breaks are clever, mostly following the first through third trimesters or Cecilia’s immaculate conception and pregnancy, with each trimester increasing the stakes and attempts at Cecilia’s escape.

Thematically this film is on point, but the story itself is a bit disorganized. You never really find out what the meaning is, or who the people are, behind the red-faced nuns. When Cecilia discovers that one of the elderly nuns has the crucifix symbol burned into her feet, which is later mirrored with her own divine disfigurement, you are given the impression that this treatment of the women as breeding cattle has been happening for a long time, but the presence of Father Sal Tedeschi’s character seems like he’s only been at the convent a handful of years, far less than it would seem the experiments on the women has been occurring. The ultimate point of the film is pretty straight forward. They want to recreate the immaculate conception to bring about the return of Christ. That’s an easy plot point to get behind and one can infer a multiude of malicious ways that they villain or villains of this film might use to accomplish that goal. The result is a sloppy finger-point and confrontation ending with a shock-horror ending.

IMMACULATE isn’t a bad horror movie. It’s not a condemnation of faith or an atrocity to the Catholic religion. In fact, it doesn’t cast judgment one way or the other on the church itself, and positions service to people as the kind and right thing to do as a way of life. Thematically, everything here works. The acting is great from the cast and Sydney Sweeney plays both sides of scared little lamb and big bad wolf perfectly. I can absolutely understand why she pursued this script and role for as long as she did. It’s perfect for her as an actress and as a person positioning herself in the film industry for more. The issues with this film aren’t money-related, as the budget was healthy enough to pull off everything they did. It comes down to the story logic, which editing may have been a factor of, but I have to judge based on what makes it to the screen, and that being said, I had a lot of problems in that regard. IMMACULATE is a bold move for Sweeney, it succeeds in the horror it presents, but doesn’t quite pull off the lore part of the story it’s trying to tell.

Reviewed as part of the 2024 Boston Underground Film Festival
Immaculate | March 22, 2024 (United States) Summary: Cecilia, a woman of devout faith, is warmly welcomed to the picture-perfect Italian countryside where she is offered a new role at an illustrious convent. But it becomes clear to Cecilia tha... Read all
Countries: Italy, United StatesLanguages: English

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