Immaculate (2024) Review

Immaculate (2024) Review

Immaculate (2024)
Director: Michael Mohan
Screenwriter: Andrew Lobel
Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Simona Tabasco, Benedetta Porcaroli, Giorgio Colangeli, Dora Romano, Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi

Horror films haven’t been great this year, at least not the ones that make it to general release on the big screen. With more on the way in the upcoming weeks and months, there has to be hope for the sake of the genre that someone manages to get any kind of blood of quality out of this particular stone, or blood out of the crying eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary, perhaps. The latter doesn’t quite happen in Immaculate, though we wouldn’t want to go all in on every single cliché in the book in one go, would we?

Sydney Sweeney’s young Sister Cecilia, the new recruit from the United States to an Italian convent, is pious and devout and all the things she should be. Then she begins seeing sinister nuns with their faces covered by red cloth, has visions in the night, and despite the friendship of Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) is still made to feel isolated and alone. Why? She is with child, despite being chaste, and everyone believes it will be the miracle birth of the resurrection. Most of clichés you’d expect from a film of this type are present in Immaculate in some way, even if only in spirit, but there is at least an attempt to make them vaguely artistically valuable.

A cold open of a sister attempting to flee the convent in the dead of night and then being buried alive (after having her leg snapped in the bars of the main gate) tell us there is more to Sister Cecilia’s pregnancy than meets the eye. There is no slow build, no tricks or attempted rug-pulls, we are simply placed slap bang in the middle of the horror genre from the opening moments of the film. Screenwriter Andrew Lobel never tries to disguise Immaculate as anything other than what it is, a mashup of Rosemary’s Baby and Suspiria. His dialogue is similarly straightforward, never aspiring for artistic greatness but avoiding being entirely expositional. Lobel’s script is blunt and simplistic rather than deliberately bad, its issue stemming from its lack of attempting anything complex in thought or deed.

The downside is that his screenplay doesn’t try to do anything interesting with the formula. Instead, it falls to director Michael Mohan to try and squeeze every drop of possible freshness and art out of a film which is intrinsically forty years old by five pages in. He manages to insert some beautiful looking tracking shots, and there is a wonderful final take to finish the film, keeping a harrowing scene on Sweeney’s bloodied, tortured, screaming face for a good several minutes. The execution is uneven in parts, but so is the story, so to have managed to accomplished anything is an achievement. When it needs to feel free-flowing, he allows the camera to be so. When we need to have closeups of extreme violence, he doesn’t flinch for as long as the studio executives will allow.

The violence should be noted, because there are one or two moments that could have easily been cut or shot differently to bring the age rating down. Having such violence in what could have been made a 15 but got the full 18 (or an R getting an NC-17) is interesting, but with a story which is as fundamentally dark as this one, sometimes the knives need to come out and the visceral nature of how it feels needs to be put on screen for maximum impact. One scene in particular manages to earn some proper seat-squirming. It’s a dark story, and sometimes it needs to be brutal.

Going this dark and brutal in places has obviously transferred over to the cast and their performances, all of which are decent (with Sweeney’s final few minutes being a genuinely incredible display). There’s also some wonderful production and set design. If nothing else, the interiors of the convent look gorgeous, and these are highlighted by Elisha Christian’s cinematography that most of the time brings out the best of the sets. Everyone pulls more than their fair share of the weight and it ends up being a film which is much better than it has any right to be.

Immaculate is nowhere near fantastic, but there are far worse films out there, and the motives of the antagonists are just as chilling as anything else with a pleasing lingering aftertaste.

Score: 15/24

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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