Immaculate – Film Review

Continuing her upward swing through Hollywood following her roles in Sony’s Madame Web and Will Gluck’s sleeper hit Anyone But You, Sydney Sweeney stars as Cecelia, a young nun haunted by a sinister force in Immaculate, a fresh psychological horror akin to Rosemary’s Baby. Directed by Michael Mohan with a script by Andrew Lobel, Immaculate also stars Alvaro Morte and Benedetta Porcaroli.

Drawn to a life of service, Cecelia dedicated her life to God following a near death experience as a child. Believing that she was saved for a higher purpose, Cecelia accepts an invitation from Father Sal Tedeschi to join an exclusive convent in the scenic Italian countryside in the hopes that God’s plan will be revealed to her at her new home.

Secluded, gated and well-maintained, the convent serves as a care home for sick and dying nuns; Cecelia, along with her new friend and fellow initiate Sister Gwen, works to provide the elderly sisters with a comfortable end of life, bathing them and keeping them company. Soon after joining however, Cecelia notices strange occurrences in the convent, like faceless figures and cross-shaped scars on some of the nun’s feet. Wracked by nightmares, Cecelia is stunned to discover that she is pregnant with what the convent’s inhabitants believe is the second coming of Christ. Treated as the next Virgin Mary, Cecelia works to uncover the secrets of the convent while ensuring she gets out alive.

Immaculate is clearly a passion project for Sweeney, who lifted it out of development hell through her production company Fifty-Fifty Films, and she really dives into the role of Sister Cecelia. Her quiet way of speaking suits the atmosphere of the film really well, painting Sweeney as a meek and devout Catholic Sister but her natural fire shines through as she tackles intense physical scenes toward the climax of the film, turning Cecelia into a woman unhinged by the bastardisation of her faith. Sweeney also exhibits a natural comedic ability, delivering one-liners that add necessary levity to the film without causing any scenes to lose their impact.

Of the Immaculate’s supporting players, Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi makes a powerful debut performance as the jealous and bitter Sister Isabelle, and Alvaro Morte who is mostly known for his work on the Spanish series Money Heist is a wonderful villain, representing the best and worst of men of faith – a soft and caring spirit upheld by a lust for power and control. His presence is at once calming and imposing, with a demanding energy that lights up the scene.

Visually, Immaculate is a stunning film, both in its setting and its horror execution. The convent and the gorgeous countryside setting really feel like their own characters, full of vibrancy and a haunting beauty. The opulence of the chapel, hallways, and grounds juxtaposed against the simple and uncomplicated clothing of the residents and their vows to live modestly without greed, feels like a special kind of hypocrisy.

Utilising some camerawork that feels directly lifted from the James Wan and Leigh Whannell school of directing, Mohan uses lingering shots, slow pans, and cleverly placed jump scares to dig out the convent’s seedy underbelly. Thematically, Immaculate presents as a nunsploitation film, but in truth it feels much deeper than that, exploring the freedom and constraints of devout faith with the concept of man acting as God and calling it a miracle.

Lobel’s script doesn’t delve deeply into the sciences of genetics, instead providing a simple framework for Mohan to create an atmosphere that makes viewers question how many of the horrors are real and how many are supernatural. With an ending that needs to be watched through grit teeth, Immaculate is a solid entry for the genre that cements Sweeney as a real Scream Queen contender.

Immaculate is in cinemas now.

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