The Movie Waffler New to Shudder - ST. AGATHA | The Movie Waffler

New to Shudder - ST. AGATHA

st agatha review
A pregnant young woman attempts to flee the sinister convent she checked herself into.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Starring: Sabrina Kern, Carolyn Hennesy, Courtney Halverson, Seth Michaels, Trin Miller

st. agatha film poster

Largely inspired by the notoriety around Ken Russell's The Devils, the 1970s saw the birth of the sub-genre known as 'nunsploitation', a cycle of films in which all manner of sexual and violent debauchery occurred behind convent walls. It's no surprise that most of these films came from Spain and Italy, made by Catholic filmmakers who no doubt grew up viewing nuns with a curious mix of fear and desire. 2018 saw an unlikely revival of the nunsploitation genre - The Nun; Luciferina; The Devil's Doorway - though in these prudish times, the sexual aspect has been removed as these films focus solely on the creepier aspects of women of the cloth.

st agatha review

Where the aforementioned films have woven the supernatural into their convent set stories, Darren Lynn Bousman's St. Agatha may appear to initially have the trappings of the paranormal, but it's grounded in one of the real life evils of the Catholic Church, the once profitable practice of taking newborns from unwed mothers and selling them to adoptive parents.

In 1950s America, Mary (Sabrina Kern) turns herself into a convent after becoming pregnant and receiving little support from her con artist boyfriend. Within minutes of being welcomed by the terrifying Mother Superior (Jane Seymour lookalike Carolyn Hennessy) and her rottweiler-like minions, the alarm bells should start ringing in Mary's head to alert her that she isn't going to find much Christian compassion in this particular establishment. The other young expectant mothers cower in fear and warn the newcomer to keep her head down so as not to upset the Mother Superior.

st agatha review

Director Bousman is best known for his helming of several instalments of the Saw franchise, so it's no surprise to find much of St. Agatha's narrative revolves around the prolonged torture of its protagonist. It's a very different form of abuse here however, a mix of psychological - guilt-tripping Mary into feeling like a harlot whose sins must be excised - and physical - in a stomach turning scene, Mary is force-fed food that's been pre-chewed by a nun - but though based in real practices, it stills feel like Bousman is more concerned in simply shocking his viewers than in educating them on the wrongs of the Catholic Church.

St. Agatha is an unwieldy mix of suspense thriller and social drama, but Bousman doesn't have the chops to pull off any truly nailbiting sequences, and his commentary on religious atrocities is too shallow to function as a gritty condemnation of institutional horror. Remove the rougher scenes of abuse and St. Agatha plays a lot like a '90s era TV movie. Bousman pads out the running time with unnecessary flashbacks that actually disrupt any potential tension that might have been mined from keeping his story set within the claustrophobic confines of the convent.

st agatha review

Everything here is just about 'fine'. The movie looks relatively slick for its budget, and Kern and Hennessy throw themselves into their roles of sympathetic prisoner and cruel captor. But it never quite hooks us enough to fully invest in Mary's plight, and her prison doesn't really seem as difficult to break free from as Bousman would like us to believe. Composer Mark Sayfritz's score is the standout element, and is still earworming its way around my brain now, but its '70s prog-rock sound jars with the 1950s setting.

St. Agatha is on Shudder UK now.