The Movie Waffler First Look Review - AGNES | The Movie Waffler

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First Look Review - AGNES

agnes review
A disgraced priest is tasked with exorcising a demon from a possessed nun.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mickey Reece

Starring: Molly Quinn, Jake Horowitz, Sean Gunn, Chris Browning, Ben Hall, Mary Buss, Chris Sullivan

agnes poster

Ever since William Friedkin brought William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist to the screen, we've been receiving knockoffs every few years. On paper, Mickey Reece's Agnes reads like one of several Exorcist riffs to arrive in the past couple of years. A young nun, the titular Agnes (Hayley McFarland), has seemingly become possessed by a demon. A veteran exorcist and a novice priest are teamed up to battle the demon. So far, so what?

agnes review

But wait, there's more here than meets the eye. Reece may be working with a well-worn template here, but nevertheless has managed to turn out one of the most original and surprisingly emotional horror movies of recent years. Reece takes an almost postmodern approach to the exorcism movie, with characters that almost seem to know they're in an exorcism movie. There's something of Escape from New York in how veteran priest Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) is chosen to perform the task. He's expendable you see, having been accused of child abuse (the film remains daringly ambiguous regarding his guilt) and the church higher-ups are likely hoping he'll fail and possibly die in the event, relieving them of a thorn in their side.


Sipping from a hip flask, Hall is as sardonic as Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken as he passes his cynicism down to the naïve and novice priest Father Ben (Jake Horowitz). When I attended a Christian brothers school I often surmised that many of the priests stationed there weren't so much invested in the church as seeking a way out of the uncertainties of the outside world, which Father Donaghue surmises is the case with his young apprentice.

agnes review

Just when we think we've gotten a handle on the sort of movie Agnes is – a knowing satire of the exorcism sub-genre – the movie takes a major left turn in its second half. We follow Mary (Molly Quinn), one of the possessed girl's fellow nuns and her chief confidante, as she leaves the convent and tries to make it on the outside. Her innocence makes her easy prey for exploitative landlords and employers, and she ends up working back-breaking hours for seemingly little reward. Watching Mary contend with the hardship and drudgery of just trying to get by in the modern world, we can see why she might be tempted to make a return to the convent with its safety and certainty, if not freedom. I was reminded of the segment in The Shawshank Redemption in which an elderly prisoner is released to a world he no longer recognises, and one he no longer cares to be part of.


Agnes concludes with a conversation between two people about the role of religion in said modern world. I won’t reveal the conclusions they draw, but it's a fascinatingly well performed and precisely scripted piece that could stand as a short film on its own. It's a moment that wouldn't be out of place in a Paul Schrader movie and I could have watched the two performers involved carry on this debate for an entire movie's length.

agnes review

Reece is a prolific indie director who has been churning out low budget movies in recent times. Agnes is his most high profile release to date, and it will likely propel him to command bigger projects than he's so far been accustomed to. As a newcomer to his work, I'm certainly curious to delve into his weighty back catalogue.

Agnes
 is in US cinemas and on VOD from December 10th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2021 movie reviews