Monday, July 22, 2024
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Immaculate (2024) Review






Writer’s note: The second paragraph of this article (just below the first image) contains a basic outline of the film’s premise. There are no spoilers that weren’t already inferred in the film’s own trailer. However, if you want to completely avoid potential spoilers, skip over the second paragraph.

One of the most commonly used themes in horror films is a fear of religion. Demons, devils, angels and gods have repeatedly been used as a source of terror, from Rosemary’s Baby (1968) to The Conjuring (2013). For something meant to generate hope and comfort, Hollywood has certainly gained a lot of mileage out of playing into many audience members’ god-fearing beliefs. Once upon a time, viewers were terrified when they saw little Linda Blair succumb to possession in The Exorcist (1973), yet now it’s a boring cliché. This corner of the horror genre is so overdone, that it’s become comical. In order to maintain the terror, filmmakers have needed to find ways of using these old tools. So we have to wonder, does Michael Mohan’s Immaculate (2024) succeed in this task.

We are introduced to Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney), a young nun who is invited by Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) to join an exclusive convent in Italy that tends to dying nuns in their last days. After taking her vows along with her new friend Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), Cecilia tries to maintain her duties without becoming disheartened. After nearly drowning in a frozen lake as a child, Cecilia thinks that God saved her for a reason, so she never strays from her beliefs. However, that belief is suddenly tested when it turns out that Cecilia is pregnant, despite never having been with a man. Naturally, she is immediately treated as the mother of a new messiah by the convent, but this doesn’t make life easier for Cecilia. She is repeatedly haunted by very strange happenings, with the convent and nuns mysteriously putting her life in danger. As such, Cecilia questions whether her pregnancy is a miracle, or something far more sinister.

Given how well worn this genre is, it’s likely every single viewer will already be guessing where the story is going. Indeed, Immaculate doesn’t stray far from the expected story beats. The opening sequence, build up, catalyst, and midpoint all occur exactly as telegraphed, meaning there’s not much in the first half we haven’t seen before. This even applies to the various scares, as we can predict when the jumps, moments of violence, and red herrings will occur. This isn’t to say it’s unenjoyable, given that it’s all done in a fairly functional manner. For those not wanting to leap out of their seat, it’s okay because you can always figure out when to brace yourself. However, for those who want to experience the terror, Immaculate may disappoint.

Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi, Sydney Sweeney and Benedetta Porcaroli as Sister Isabelle, Sister Cecilia and Sister Gwen.

Despite this, Immaculate is a handsomely produced piece, with solid camera work, editing, direction and scripting. Director Michael Mohan and his team have thankfully taken their craft seriously, delivering a mostly fine tuned and dramatically sincere horror film. Even when it veers into silly genre tropes, Immaculate maintains a sense of integrity, treating its subject matter as if it’s the first time we’ve ever seen something like this. As mentioned, we’ve seen horror films involving nuns many times, but every horror film is someone’s first. Immaculate doesn’t reach the artistic heights of The Babadook (2014), Get Out (2017), Hereditary (2018) or Talk to Me (2023), but it’s never a cheaply disposable experience.

Most of the film’s merit comes from the central performance of Sydney Sweeney, who commits to the role without any hesitation. This is significant, given that Sweeney is expected to go to a very dark place with this character, and must perform in some fairly confronting scenarios. Sweeney has shot to superstardom in a short period of time, and it’s unusual for a new A-Lister such as her, to give her all in a role like this. Many young actors in her shoes would think that this subject matter and genre are beneath them, but Sweeney still finds validation and artistic fulfilment in this story. Her dedication comes through in her performance, highlighting the true thematic value of Immaculate.

Benedetta Porcaroli as Sister Gwen.

With that in mind, Immaculate doesn’t play with expectations in its first half, but the second does indeed deliver some interesting subversions. Specifically, Immaculate starts out by playing squarely into religious, supernatural horror, but the genre suddenly shifts when more of the plot unfolds. While the film doesn’t avoid the typical genre clichés in its opening, the third act thankfully goes into a direction which avoids the most expected cliché. By the time we are past this point, it’s no longer a supernatural horror film, instead shifting gears into a more grounded realm. This even makes the horror sequences feel more like thriller sequences. This means it’s definitely not scary anymore, but it’s no less effective in keeping the audience’s blood pumping.

This begs the question: what does Immaculate gain from its minor subversion? The standard build up, typical story beats, and mid-film genre shift, all come together to deliver a very clear message regarding consent and bodily autonomy. This point couldn’t be clearer in the film’s final moments, with a closing scene that will surely leave viewers talking. Does the ending leave something to be desired? In a way, as it’s anti-climatic, but the thematic integrity is still maintained. As such, viewers may leave Immaculate slightly underwhelmed, but the more thought they give it, the more it’ll be appreciated.

Sydney Sweeney as Sister Cecilia.

Immaculate isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s certainly still worth at least one viewing. At the very least, it will be an interesting early footnote in Sydney Sweeney’s career, as it showcases how committed she is to her work, and how her performance can bring out the best in even the most standard film.


Best way to watch it: Probably the drive-in.

Immaculate Poster.

Robert Fantozzi

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