Friday, March 29, 2024

Immaculate: A Review



I am not sure where the concept of nuns being scary came from. Maybe it is the wardrobe. Maybe it is the thought of potentially beautiful young women secreting themselves in isolation. We have and will keep having horror nuns pop up in film, with Immaculate as the newest entry. A movie which came very close to being if not good at least serviceable, Immaculate failed at the very end. 

Novitiate Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) comes to the Our Lady of Sorrows convent, which is essentially a hospice for older nuns suffering from various ailments physical and mental. Here, she meets two contrasting nuns. There is Sister Isabelle (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi), a rather curt, bitchy nun. There is Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), more worldly and sarcastic with whom Cecilia bonds with. 

Sister Cecilia is here at the invitation of Father Sal Tedeschi (Alvaro Morte), who is Cecilia's unofficial mentor in matters of faith. She is presented a most holy relic: a nail which was used at the Crucifixion. Cecilia notes strange goings-on, but none as strange as that of her being pregnant despite being a virgin. Rather than be appalled or shocked, the Church hierarchy is surprisingly pleased at the news. It is a miracle, a new Immaculate Conception. However, not everyone is pleased that Cecilia is the bearer of the returning Savior. Could there be more wickedness behind this apparent miracle? How far will both the Church and Cecilia go to see this Child come onto the world? The sacred and profane mix in mad science and murder to a shocking and even hilarious conclusion.

Immaculate seems to be a reverse Omen/Rosemary's Baby in that rather than seeing the literal Spawn of Satan, it wants to see the rebirth of Christ. As I am not Catholic, I can offer only a limited view on how the Church would react to a nun pregnant despite being a virgin. Immaculate, however, asks us to believe certain things that I figure even some Catholics would reject as heresy if not outright blasphemy. The big twist is that somehow, our mad scientist priest has managed to extract the DNA of Christ from the Holy Nails and attempted with repeated failure to impregnate a woman to bringing about a new Christ. For us to believe this, we would have to believe that the nails were indeed the actual nails and some rusty pieces of junk. I openly wondered why they didn't opt for the Shroud of Turin, which has a stronger possibility for this way-out premise.

In one curious scene, Sister Isabelle attempts to murder Cecilia and when led out of the bath, begins screaming that it should have been her. This leads one to wonder if the other nuns were aware of this wild scenario and willing if not eager to go along with it. Andrew Lobel's screenplay will not answer this question, nor others that it throws in but does not fully answer. 

I figure that her impregnation came about through what she thought was a dream sequence, vaguely reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby. However, one figures that the creepy nuns in red masks injected her with whatever concoction Father Sal whipped up. We are treated to a set of jars chronicling his failures, but why this version would take one can only guess at. It is a puzzle why Cecilia, who found faith helped her after a traumatic childhood near-death experience, would apparently allow herself to be worshipped. The opening of Immaculate, which features another nun attempting an escape only to be buried alive, never answers whether this nun fled due to finding out what blasphemous acts were being done there or because she was meant to be the newest vessel for this wicked act.

Again, for most of Immaculate, I think the film worked for what it was: a vaguely Gothic horror film. Director Michael Mohan gives us appropriately spooky visuals with the catacombs and mist covering the convent. We have Will Bates' appropriately creepy music. Sweeney does mostly well as Cecilia, this vaguely unaware woman who finds herself in these strange circumstances. It is not a great performance, but again for most of Immaculate, I found it serviceable. Most everyone else plays things as directed albeit one-note: bitchy (Di Renzi), abrasive (Porcaroli)

It is not until the end when the film falls off. In the concluding scene of the birth, the focus is on Sweeney's blood-soaked face. The thud that we hear, presumably the child's birth, was met with laughter from the audience. Cecilia's actions after the birth, however, were met with stoney, if not horrified silence. The ending did not sit well with me, and I think a more ambiguous ending would have worked better.

If not for the ending (and the thud of childbirth), Immaculate could have been a serviceable horror film. It gets points knocked down for that. Immaculate is anything but. 

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