Immaculate (2024)

FEBRUARY 27, 2024


Before this advanced screening of Immaculate began, director Michael Mohan came out and listed some of the movies that influenced this one, such as The Devils and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, but the title that really piqued my curiosity was Barbarian. Faithful readers of the site might wonder why there is no Barbarian review here, but the simple reason is I refused to, because it was so damn good but also benefited greatly from having no idea what it was about (for those still in the dark, I will say it's not about a barbarian), so I wanted to help as many people go in as blind as I did. This one isn't quite as surprising throughout, though the comparison IS apt, because like that film I am guessing few if any will be able to guess what the final 20 minutes of Immaculate are about based on its first half.

Since the trailer's been running for a while now I think it's OK to sum up the same thing it tells you: the movie stars Sydney Sweeney as a nun named Cecilia who has recently relocated to a sort of nursing home/convent in Italy where older nuns go once they can no longer care for themselves, making sure their final days on earth are as comfortable and cheery as possible. But being that Cecilia is a young American who has just arrived at a new isolated place in Europe you know damn well that there's something creepy going on and she will just as certainly be the newest target for whatever that is. And she also finds herself pregnant, despite being a virginal nun who took a vow of chastity, but if you think about the film's title and are caught up on Jesus Christ's wiki page you should know it's not much of a mystery what might be happening there.

That's all I'll say about the film's plot; there are some twists and surprises along the way that I wouldn't dream tipping you off about (though I can't help myself fully - I need to at least get it on the record that I was in no way expecting to be reminded of a certain polarizing '90s sequel when I sat down for the film. Once you see the movie you'll probably know the one I mean if you're a proper franchise aficionado). But I can say without spoiling anything that, at least for me, the film's pivots worked like gangbusters, and while a "Nunsploitation purist" (if such a thing exists) might cry foul that it doesn't follow the usual formula, I had an absolute blast and was full on cackling for most of the final reel, as the movie just WENT FOR IT in ways that made me quite pleased.

Because, and I'm sure you've surmised as much if you dutifully read my reviews (or at least, my letterboxd), I'm getting tired of the A24-ization of horror as of late. You know, the "elevated" stuff. I'm fine with seeing some of those every now and then, and some I quite like (The Witch, Midsommar, X...), but I feel there are now too many others competing for that same piece of the pie, and simply not enough fun horror movies coming along (not to mention attracting A list talent like Sweeney, whose star is on the rise and yet, per Mohan, loved the script so much she threw her weight behind it as a producer to make sure it got made). The last couple horror movies I saw in theaters were Out of Darkness and Stopmotion, both of which I'd describe with words like "grim" and "cold."

Again, nothing wrong with that! But we need balance, and based on the trailer I figured this would follow suit. I was not expecting to cheer and applaud a well timed bit of profanity. And given my own views on catholicism (due to my fairly strict upbringing and subsequent realization that this was no way to live your life), seeing the blasphemy on display—including a crucifix used to bludgeon someone—just kept me fully entertained, smiling and laughing as opposed to getting all bummed out like I figured I would. Not that the trailer is misleading, mind you—it's just that it focuses on the first half when it comes to what it shows in context, leaving the second half a complete surprise, at least to me.

It's also pretty scary! In a jump horror kind of way to be fair, but an effective jolt isn't the easiest thing to pull off. Believe me, I've watched enough James Wan wannabes (James Wannabes?) in the past few years to know that it can get far too easy to spot them coming, as if the directors only know one way to pull them off. Here there are at least three good ones, four if you count one that's given away in the trailer (though in context it kind of works again even though you know it's coming? Impressive!), plus some solid suspense and nail-biter type scenes, like an extended bit where Sweeney attempts to escape and Mohan's camera refuses to show you how close her pursuers are.

Speaking of Sweeney, I'm not as smitten with her as many of my contemporaries (more like downright obsessed in some of y'all cases) but I enjoyed her work here. I'm always impressed when a name actress fully commits to the nonsense one might endure in a horror movie (i.e. getting covered in blood, screaming her damn head off, etc.) and wasn't sure if she had it in her, but I was happily wrong. I can't spoil the particulars of course, but there's one long take that's essentially just her face for the most part, and even if it was the first and only take she deserves our respect. If she had to do it multiple times and that was like take six or whatever? Hell, give her the Fangoria Chainsaw Award right now. Or maybe even the Spirit Award, I think it qualifies.

(I know better than to consider hoping for an Oscar nom. Not that it's on that level anyway, but if they didn't even consider Toni Collette, ain't no genre actress getting a chance ever again.)

A few people walked out (including the couple in front of me and my friend, so thanks for the improved line of sight, losers!), and given the fact that this particular screening was a Beyond Fest-hosted one (i.e. a crowd who should be fully ready for anything) I'm guessing there will be some similar reactions at large when it hits release. If I'm right, it's their loss, and they can go home and watch Consecration if they demand their nun horror be all moody and dour. For everyone who isn't too precious about these things, I hope you'll check it out; I feel that a proper crowd (which we got, outside of those few sticklers) will aid greatly in the enjoyment. It isn't high art or anything, but sometimes it's just nice to see a horror movie that does the basics right (it has some scares! It has a couple of gruesome deaths! It's not something that'll ever actually happen!), and a rare genre heroine outside of the slasher film that does applause-worthy things to survive. AND it breaks like, three of the Commandments, for good measure.

What say you?


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