A pregnant woman is dress ornately by nuns.

Film Review: Immaculate


Director: Martin Mohan

Black Bear Pictures, Fifty-Fifty Films and Middle Child Pictures
In Theaters: 03.22

The biggest complaint that I have with the modern horror genre is that shock value is too often confused with creativity and daring. Immaculate is a movie that wants you to believe it’s provocative and pushing boundaries when it’s just lazy, gimmicky filmmaking. I’m going to give fair warning that while I’ve tried to avoid any outright spoilers, it’s impossible to stay utterly vague about a film that is completely devoid of nuance, and if you’re eager to see the film you may want to stop reading here.

Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney, Anyone But You) is a devout young American novice preparing to take her vows as a nun and accepts an invitation to join an exclusive convent in Italy that cares for dying nuns. Guided by her belief that God saved her from drowning at a young age, Cecilia takes to this life of seclusion with a ready spirit, though the more time she spends there, the stranger it all seems. After a haunting nightmare, Cecilia is faced with the shock of her life: despite having taken the vows of chastity as a virgin, Cecilia is somehow pregnant. Is it a miracle? Is this her diving calling? Why are there nuns skulking in the shadows wearing red masks? These are just some of the bone-chilling questions waiting to be answered as we check our watches.

Immaculate starts with a certain amount of atmospheric tension and the slow build to set the tone is engaging enough. Cinematographer Elisha Christian (The Night House) has a lot to work with and gets some nice mileage out of Italian vistas and moody lighting, and the score by Will Bates (Dumb Money) is quite effective. Unfortunately, screenwriter Andrew Lobel (Mysteries Unknown) and director Michael Mohan (The Voyeurs) have given us a film that’s mildly interesting as we wonder where it’s going, but it becomes frustratingly plodding on its way there and laugh-out-loud ridiculous when it reaches its destination. This bizarre mash-up of The Trouble with Angels, Rosemary’s Baby, The Da Vinci Code and They Saved Hitler’s Brain seems to realize that it has used up all of the suspense it has allotted and falls back on the old standby of just tossing insane amounts of blood everywhere as we hear Latin singing in the background. What promised to be an edgy, theology-based thriller merely becomes a monument to B-movie horror at its most exploitative. All of these sins might be forgivable, however, if Immaculate wasn’t so relentlessly and achingly dull, yet it manages to be so over the top that it had lines like “Now you’re ashamed? Where was your shame when you were stuffing a dead animal inside yourself?!” spoken with reckless abandon and somehow it still manages to be an utter snooze. This is a horror film that tries to be many things, and unfortunately, one that it never comes close to achieving is scary.

Sweeney gives a solid performance , and her expressive eyes do a lot of effective storytelling. Eventually, she’s just reduced to screaming her head off, which gets old fast, though she does an admirable job of trying to make the dumbfoundingly silly finale scene work based solely on her intensity. Álvaro Morte (The Wheel of Time) is memorably campy as Father Sal Tedeschi, the suave Italian Priest who moves in the shadows and alternative, pious, seductive, and ominous until he finally steps over the line into full-on Bela Lugosi mad scientist territory. Benedetta Porcaroli (Baby) gives the most likable performance as Sister Gwen, the saucy Italian nun who makes vibrator jokes and delivers the zinger, “Of course I believe in God. The world is so cruel, only a man could be responsible.”

If you can embrace Immaculate as pure camp, sort of the Scream of The Exorcist and Omen subgenre of holy terror,  you may find Immaculate to be just what you’re looking for, especially if you’re a big fan of extreme blood and gore. It’s a mistake to think that it’s all meant to be taken completely seriously, though it’s also a mistake to give it too much credit as dumb fun when it’s so much more successful at the dumb than it is as the fun. If anyone out there is worried about it being sacrilegious, I’m here to assure that I actually found it to be quite faith-affirming in the sense that I audibly thanked God when it was finally over. –Patrick Gibbs

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