Immaculate (2024, dir. Michael Mohan)

by | Mar 19, 2024


JustWatch

Certificate: 18

Running Time: 89 mins

UK Distributor: Black Bear Films

UK Release Date: 22 March 2024

WHO’S IN IMMACULATE?

Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli, Simona Tabasco, Giampiero Judica

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Michael Mohan (director), Andrew Lobel (writer), David Bernad, Jonathan Davino, Michael Heimler, Teddy Schwarzman and Sydney Sweeney (producers), Will Bates (composer), Elisha Christian (cinematographer), Christian Masini (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An American nun (Sweeney) finds horrors at her new covenant in Italy…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON IMMACULATE?

Apparently, Immaculate has been circulating through development hell for at least a decade, to where its star Sydney Sweeney first auditioned for the lead role when she was sixteen years old. The project clearly stuck in the actor’s mind ever since, and now that she’s gained some star power of her own, she’s championed the emergence of Andrew Lobel’s script into existence (via a quick re-write to slightly age up her character) as a producer, her first such credit under her recently-formed production company Fifty-Fifty Films.

As admirable as that is, it’s not hard to see why Immaculate took so long to finally get made. For one, it gets into some very out-there concepts involving religion and faith that may well cause some severe division, especially in a day and age where God-fearing Christian sects will spew fire and brimstone over anything considered remotely sacrilegious. It is also, to be blunt, not an especially great script, for it is overly reliant on a number of jump-scares that often have little to do with the actual plot. However, for all its flaws, it is made hugely entertaining by a combination of filmmaking and performance that ultimately give the film its holy spirit.

The film stars Sweeney as Cecilia, a young nun who became a devout believer after surviving a near-death experience during childhood. After her American parish closes, she is invited to stay at a remote convent in Italy, which is run by the seemingly friendly Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) and is populated by other nuns who vary from cautiously inviting to staring daggers at her from afar. Shortly after arriving, Cecilia suddenly learns that she is pregnant, despite never breaking her chastity pledge, and her immaculate conception is deemed a miracle by Father Sal and the rest of the convent. However, nothing is as it seems, and soon Cecilia finds herself trapped in a rather horrifying situation as her pregnancy slowly progresses.

For its first half, Immaculate more or less hits many of the expected horror movie beats. With its inclusion of dream sequences that are heavy on jump-scares, characters looking sinisterly at the main protagonist from a distance, and a cold open that sets the intense tone yet never factors back into the main narrative, Lobel’s script feels like it regularly fell victim to one too many notes from studio executives that wanted more scary stuff, regardless of whether it works or not. Though many of them are fairly well-executed, such as one dream sequence set within a confessional booth that stretches further and further into the darkness, they more often than not stop the movie in its tracks so that it can startle the viewer in a constant reminder that they are, indeed, watching a horror film.

It’s also one of those films where you can tell pretty much right away who the villains are going to turn out to be, not least because they’re constantly going about acting creepily for no real reason other than that they are the baddies, all while Sweeney’s initially naïve new arrival fails to notice the blatant red flags waving around her at this convent. Some characters don’t even act like they’re keeping any of their ill deeds a secret, since they regularly commit evil acts out in the open, or at least enough to where the main character can easily find them behind closed doors that are themselves highly accessible. One of the main villains also looks all too convincingly like Lucifer himself, whilst he’s giving shifty eyes even in scenes where they’re supposed to be charming and friendly, as though the audience hasn’t already caught on to their distrustful nature. It plays out these reveals in all the ways you might expect, which makes the majority of the film pretty predictable.

What isn’t predictable, however, is exactly where this movie ends up going. It reaches a point around the break into the third act where, once you find out what’s actually going on, it goes into some extremely out-there ideas that border on science-fiction, and not too far-removed from the outlandish reveals during the final thirds of Get Out or Overlord. I’ll admit that even though it was obvious who the villains were, what they were up to still came across as quite a surprise to me, as it never dawned on me until seeing it unfold that a movie like Immaculate was capable of going to these absolutely wild concepts. From that moment on, the film really does embrace its heightened Nunsploitation identity, complete with some pretty gnarly but satisfying violence, and gore effects that are fun to watch (there are some iffy fire effects at one point as well, but that trope is quickly discarded in a nice manoeuvre away from the whole “evil lair goes down in flames” convention).

Part of what makes these ludicrous turns of this film’s latter half so entertaining is the fact that director Michael Mohan, who previously directed Sydney Sweeney in Amazon’s erotic thriller The Voyeurs, doubles down hard on the cathartic, Tarantino-esque violence that one can often find in a similarly gory exploitation film from the 70s or 80s. There is also the exceptional commitment of Sweeney herself, as the actor powers her way through the monumental physical and emotional challenges set for her during this all-encompassing climax, right up to and including a final one-shot scene that features some incredibly raw acting, as well as a deeply uncomfortable vibe that is bound to cause a divide among viewers. The filmmaking, which also includes some impressively moody cinematography by Elisha Christian, truly does shine in this part of the movie, as it puts you right alongside Sweeney’s character as she goes through some unnerving ordeals, while the actor makes this character, as thinly-defined and overly naïve as she can sometimes be, engaging and charming enough to actually root for her the whole time.

Though it is a shame that the rest of the movie beforehand isn’t as willing to embrace its B-movie roots, Immaculate is, at its best, appropriately unholy when it comes to delivering bonkers but fascinating horror entertainment.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Immaculate initially suffers from an overreliance on unnecessary scares and a predictable (to a point) plot, but once it finally gets going and reveals the bonkers Nunsploitation movie lurking underneath, it becomes much more entertaining, in part thanks to some effective filmmaking and a truly raw lead turn by Sydney Sweeney.

Three out of five stars

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