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film review
  • Immaculate
  • Directed by Michael Mohan
  • Written by Andrew Lobel
  • Starring Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Simona Tabasco
  • Classification R; 89 minutes

With roles in HBO’s The White Lotus as well as recent popcorn flicks Anyone But You and Madame Web, Sydney Sweeney has definitely emerged as one of the most successful actors of her former Euphoria cohort. And with a starring role in director Michael Mohan’s new Christsploitation horror movie, Immaculate, audiences seem ready to judge if she has what it takes to be our newest scream queen.

Sweeney stars as Sister Cecilia, a young and timid nun from Detroit who, having been saved from a near-death experience as a child, has since devoted herself to Christ. Upon the closing of her small parish, Sister Cecilia relocates to an abbey in the remote Italian countryside dedicated to providing end-of-life care for nuns.

Built upon a maze of catacombs, the convent offers Cecilia a welcome that is equal parts callous and all-too-friendly. Father Sal Tedeschi (The Wheel of Time’s Álvaro Morte) speaks a little too close to the young woman while Sister Mary (Simona Tabasco of The White Lotus), charged with helping Cecila settle in, seems intent on intimidating her newest sister into leaving. Luckily, Cecilia finds a confidante in Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), a sharp-tongued and perceptive young woman who has only recently taken her vows in an attempt to find safety and home from the outside world.

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Taking cues from both giallo and exploitation filmmaking, Immaculate certainly succeeds in establishing its formal atmosphere. Although set in the 2000s, the film feels like a nod to 1960s and 70s genre filmmaking in its staging and production design, with the camera offering up sharp and artful angles of its subject matter. Divided into three acts, the film feels fully submerged in its sense of dread, patterned by easy jump scares and a play with sound and light meant to leave audiences on the edge of their seats.

Narratively, however, Immaculate falls short of living up to its body horror meets nunsploitation influences. The sinister machinations of its immaculate conception premise are revealed far too soon and, likewise, feel underdeveloped even from within a B horror flick framework. Here, we see shlock without either camp or commitment, with the alluring tone and thematics that Immaculate worked to build in its first half seeming deflated by what appears like a narrative shortcut that is all-too-easy.

Even with an ending that feels cut and paste from revenge flick classics, Immaculate can’t seem to commit to pacing itself in a way that offers audiences an enthralling series of rewarding “gotcha” moments. Instead, the movie draws out its storytelling in a way that seems all too literal and lacking in the kind of narrative stamina that keeps horror fans on their toes.

While its penultimate scene returns to its affections for shock and gore, there remains a feeling that it’s been apologetically tacked on to a final act that is, overall, lacking in any other sort of fun or thrilling narrative twists and turns.

Open this photo in gallery:

Sydney Sweeney in a scene from the film Immaculate.The Associated Press

For star Sweeney, it’s a vehicle that, while not up to snuff in cementing her status as our new favourite final girl, definitely offers proof of her potential. Admittedly, we don’t ask all too much of some of our most beloved scream queens in terms of prerequisite acting chops: a rich stock of onscreen energy, charisma and a true commitment to the bit is often all it takes to win over horror audiences.

It’s a shame, then, that Immaculate isn’t able to offer Sweeney much to work with in its two-tone character of Sister Cecilia and limited story world. While it might be a decent enough, one-time crowd-pleasing genre romp, Immaculate certainly won’t be becoming a canon event any time soon.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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