The Movie Waffler New Release Review - IMMACULATE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - IMMACULATE

Immaculate review
A novice American nun uncovers dark secrets in an Italian convent.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Michael Mohan

Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Simona Tabasco, Alvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano

Immaculate poster

Following Huesera: The Bone Woman, Nightmare and Deliver Us, Immaculate is the latest in a recent wave of horror movies that employ a pregnant protagonist to prompt an interrogation of female body autonomy. Like Deliver Us, the mother-to-be in question is the recipient/victim of an immaculate conception and believed to be carrying the reincarnation of Christ.

Drawing on the classic trope of a wide-eyed American being preyed upon by sinister Europeans, young MidWest nun Sister Cecilia is invited to take her vows and serve at a remote Italian convent dedicated to caring for terminally ill nuns. Horror fans will know this is the sort of offer you should never accept, as will everyone else when they witness another young nun (Simona Tabasco) come a cropper by attempting to escape the convent in a pre-credits sequence.

Immaculate review

After settling into her new surrounds, Cecilia is shocked to find herself interrogated about her sex life prior to joining the convent. She swears she is still a virgin, but her superiors insist this can't be the case as she's pregnant! The convent leaders eventually decide to believe Cecilia, claiming that she has been chosen to bring the Messiah back into our earthly realm. Of course, Cecilia is given no say in the matter, but as a devout follower of Christ she's all too happy to play her part in the second coming.

But as Cecilia's belly grows she begins to grow dubious about the whole affair. She's approached by mute elderly nuns who seem to be attempting to warn her. She's attacked by a fellow nun who seems determined to stop the pregnancy. And what's with the creepy figures clad in red masks?

Immaculate review

Immaculate has been compared in some quarters to the Italian and Spanish nunsploitation films of the 1970s, but aside from its convent setting it shares few elements with its Latin predecessors. There's certainly none of the explicit lesbianism that characterised most of those movies, and the violence is nowhere near as gruesome and certainly never as sexualised. What it does share is a mistrust of the Catholic Church. Some of Immaculate's creepiest moments occur before the sinister plot has been revealed, highlighting the inherent misogyny of the institution, such as when Cecilia is required to kiss the ring of an elderly bishop in order to complete her vows. The script was originally penned over a decade ago and yet for an American audience its themes have become more resonant today given the recent furore over female reproductive rights in that country.

What really distinguishes Immaculate from the typical nunsploitation fare of the past is how seriously it takes its plot. Andrew Lobel's script and Michael Mohan's direction take care to ensure everything goes off smoothly when the truth is revealed, and to its credit the script features the most ingenious explanation of an unlikely scientific development since Jurassic Park. But this commitment to the twist means the film is hamstrung in how far into the fantastic it can lean. The movie is so determined to keep us guessing as to whether Cecilia is the victim or supernatural or earthly forces that it never allows itself to become as crazily inventive in its set pieces as the sort of '70s exploitation cinema it seeks to remind us of. When the lounge-tastic theme tune of The Red Queen Kills Seven Times plays over a montage here it only serves to remind us how staid the film is in comparison to the likes of Emilio Miraglia's giallo thriller. The latin genre filmmakers of the '70s couldn't care less about their films' plots, which usually didn't make sense anyway, and it's this very favouring of dream logic over narrative sensibility that allows them to endure. We persist in revisiting these films because they deliver the sort of thrills you just don't get in modern films like Immaculate.

Immaculate review

The difference between Immaculate and its '70s predecessors is akin to the disparity between David Lynch's Dune and Denis Villeneuve's recent adaptations. In that case I believe a talented craftsman like Villeneuve is more appropriate for a rambling space opera than a slightly mad artist like Lynch. But when it comes to a horror movie about buxom nuns being menaced in a convent I'd rather it be helmed by some perverted lunatic than a steady pair of hands like Mohan.

There are brief glimpses of the movie Immaculate could have been if skippered by a Verhoeven or Ducournau, the highlight being a late freakout that sees Sweeney channel Isabelle Adjani's infamous miscarriage in Zulawski's Possession (a classic example of a film that benefits from favouring dream logic over narrative cohesion). Sweeney is very good at channelling her character's apprehension but I never quite bought her as a Catholic zealot. She never manages to convincingly express how Sister Cecilia might feel about becoming the most important woman in Christian lore since the Virgin Mary. It's not entirely her fault, as the movie has no interest in exploring this aspect. Immaculate wants to critique the Catholic Church but it doesn't seem to understand the appeal of Catholicism. The best anti-Catholic films of the past were made by filmmakers who despised the church while also harbouring a profound fascination with its rituals and iconography. Say what you will about the Catholic Church, but they sure know how to create scary images. The average stained glass window is more lurid and unsettling than anything we see in Immaculate. With its focus on words and grounded storytelling over powerful images and supernatural subplots, Immaculate is a decidedly Protestant take on Catholic horror.

Immaculate is in UK/ROI cinemas from March 22nd.

2024 movie reviews