Immaculate

Immaculate

2024, R, 89 min. Directed by Michael Mohan. Starring Sydney Sweeney, Simona Tabasco, Alvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano.

REVIEWED By Alejandra Martinez, Fri., March 22, 2024

The imagery of Roman Catholicism is ripe with the melancholy and macabre. The bones of dead saints make the rounds for adoration, suffering is held up as a paragon of love, blessed flesh is consumed at mass.

Neon horror Immaculate understands this on a basic level. Mining such rich material, director Michael Mohan and screenwriter Andrew Lobel deliver sometimes great, sometimes goofy scares during a tight 88-minute runtime. There’s an admirable commitment to big swings, but it can sometimes feel like the film gets in its own way with odd pacing and quiet reservation where there should be a chaotic clamor.

Cecilia (Sweeney, who also produced) is an American nun who makes her way to a convent in Italy after her parish shutters due to low attendance. She’s looking for a new family in her Italian sisters, and although she might be shy she’s firm in her devotion. Her new home, what is basically a hospice convent for elderly nuns, is beautiful but unsettling. It’s full of romantic architecture and centuries-old traditions, but sinister secrets as well. When she finds herself suddenly, miraculously pregnant, the convent is convinced it’s the second coming of Christ. Cecilia’s not so sure.

Immaculate shines when it leans into its bonkers premise. From nuns being buried alive to gasp-worthy gross-out moments and jump scares galore, its heart is in the right, rotten place. Chief among the highlights is Sweeney’s performance as Cecilia. Sweeney leads with a timidity that conceals something smarter and cements herself as a true scream queen here. Also, although the film took 10 or so years to come to fruition, there is a certain urgency to a horror film about unexpected pregnancy and autonomy in a post-Roe v. Wade landscape that is hard to ignore, especially watching the film in Texas.

There are light suggestions here of nunsploitation films past and giallo (whispers of The Devils and Suspiria hang in each scene), but Immaculate never reaches the zealous heights of its influences. This is evident in even just the basic look of the film: beautiful but austere, muted cinematography renders Cecilia’s convent as a haunting place but without the deep colors or compelling compositions that could express religious hysteria with a single frame. Pacing is the biggest issue the film faces, though – in its meandering first section, then a ramped-up end of the film that feels rushed. It’s deranged, but also at times curiously defanged. At least it’s still a fun, bloody watch, even if it frustrates along the way.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Immaculate, Michael Mohan, Sydney Sweeney, Simona Tabasco, Alvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano

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