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film review

Rumors of demonic possession at a religious convent prompts a church investigation into the strange goings-on among its nuns. A disaffected priest and his neophyte are confronted with temptation, bloodshed and a crisis of faith.Stephan Sutor /Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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  • Agnes
  • Directed by Mickey Reece
  • Written by Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
  • Starring Molly Quinn, Ben Hall, Hayley McFarland, Jake Horowitz
  • Classification PG; 93 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Dec. 10 (also available on VOD platforms)

From the cult Oklahoma director Mickey Reece, the horror film Agnes is funny – both funny ha-ha (in sly ways) and funny-peculiar all around. It is set in a convent in the far corner of a diocese, where the titular nun is apparently possessed by a malicious spirit. The devil, it seems, for all its supposed powers, is prone to extravagant profanity and telekinetic parlour tricks.

Though he doesn’t believe in “medieval woo-woo,” the jaded, semi-disgraced Father Donaghue (played charismatically by Ben Hall) is called on to perform an exorcism. He tells his earnest assistant to “stick to the script” – referring to the Bible.

Early on, the off-kilter Agnes seems on the verge of parody – or, God forbid, a musical. When the priest, his pious mentee and Mother Superior walk toward the room to heal the “afflicted sister,” they do so in slow motion, with all the exaggerated swagger of a hip hop video.

But for all his irreverence toward the genre (and religion), director Reece is serious about his study of characters, even if Agnes herself is the least in focus. The film is more concerned with the comely Sister Mary (Molly Quinn) and her crisis of faith. And while there’s enough face-biting to satisfy the gore aficionados, the chief reason for this occult-based oddball is its consideration of temptation, spiritual hunger, human connection and the existential pursuit of joy.

For all his irreverence toward the genre (and religion), director Mickey Reece is serious about his study of characters.Stephan Sutor /Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Agnes is the final piece in a loose trilogy that includes Climate of the Hunter and Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart. Reece seems to have made a habit of women-centric psychological melodramas – this one (with nuns this time around) constantly surprises and entertains throughout.

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.)