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Immaculate ★★★



Released: 22nd March 2024

Director: Michael Mohan

Starring: Sydney Sweeney

Review By: Rebecca Johnson

Religion and horror are two themes that come hand-in-hand often. From The Exorcist shocking audiences back in the 70’s to last year’s The Pope’s Exorcist, the sub-genre is very much alive, well and delivering regularly. This year’s addition, Immaculate, centres on a young woman of devout faith named Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) who is offered a fulfilling new role at an Italian convent. Her warm welcome is soon interrupted as it becomes clear that her new home harbours dark and horrifying secrets. Immaculate is a competent religious horror that provides plenty of gory imagery, a killer lead performance from Sydney Sweeney and a bold take on the genre.

Immaculate is quite sluggish and unpromising to start. The plot is presented in a generic format, following a template that we are used to seeing in other religious horrors. For an 89 minute flick, the set-up may be too slow for some, as it occasionally meanders whilst setting the scene and feels messy. Failing to develop its characters or the convent well enough to feel as though this measured beginning is warranted. The side performances don’t really stand out due to this, as the characters surrounding our lead are severely underutilised and under-explored. Furthermore, it unfortunately falls too far into jump scare territory with it’s horror, not offering up anything new or exciting in terms of fear factor. Whilst these jump scares undeniably work, especially in a cinema setting, their set-ups become repetitive and predictable, ultimately leading the audience to believe this will not be a unique affair. The first half leaves a lot to be desired.

However, once Immaculate finds it’s footing during the second half, it’s unstoppable. Jump scares are side-lined for body horror that is fantastically gruesome, utilising practical effects that look entirely believable. From flaking fingernails to severed tongues, there’s some gnarly stuff here. Featuring plenty of bloodshed, an increasing amount of violence and a truly haunting final frame that’s bold enough to push boundaries and engrave itself into your mind. It’s an ending that people will be talking about for weeks to come. Once Sydney Sweeney is in full final girl survival mode, her performance becomes excellent. Cecilia is put through a hardcore endurance test as the plot progresses, putting in as much fight she can give in an attempt to get herself to safety. This determination is encapsulated beautifully in Sweeney’s performance, that is equal parts haunting and mesmerising. What helps is that Cecilia makes some good decisions along the way, making her easy to root for – the dumb final girl trope is thankfully ignored. Immaculate’s final act reveal is both bonkers and terrifying, and a welcome gear shift that really ups the ante and pace. The short run-time means the excitement is over quickly, but its homage to old-school schlocky horror means it’s a great deal of fun anyway.

What they get right throughout the film is the visuals and technical aspects. The convent building itself is utterly stunning and very of-its-time, with memorably beautiful set design as well as plenty of religious imagery. The location in which the convent is placed is equally stunning, with its rolling hills and open luscious landscapes adding to the sense of isolation despite their appeal. The colour scheme incorporates pops of red into an otherwise dark feature that adds an element of danger and fear, and the use of candlelight and dimly lit interiors gives it a suitably eerie tone. The costuming is well done, offering up something rather exciting than just regular Nun outfits, with one scene in particular featuring our leading lady in a breathtakingly angelic dress. The cinematography remains strong throughout too, as the haunting score looms creepily in the background, heightening the fear and tension when needed. There is a handful of scenes that could’ve been lit better, but overall it’s a technical treat.

The production story has been circulating online for quite some time, teaching us that this was a passion project of Sweeney’s. She originally auditioned for the project back in 2014, though it unfortunately didn’t get made. Years later, Sweeney purchased the rights to the script herself, and hired director Michael Mohan who she’d previously worked with to help bring it to life. When watching the narrative unfold, it’s easy to see why this script didn’t make it to our screens those years ago. It’s very bold in it’s exploration into religion, faith, Catholicism and most importantly, women’s bodies. With its sinister approach to said themes, it surprisingly takes multiple risks along the way. It could’ve explored some elements more thoroughly, but what it does give leaves plenty for the audience to chew on.

Immaculate is a very strong foray into the heavily saturated religious horror genre, whilst also adding something worthwhile to the ever-growing fan-favourite ‘female rage’ sub-genre. Boasting a strong performance from Sydney Sweeney, equally eerie and beautiful visuals and a bold exploration into Catholicism with a final scene worth talking about, Immaculate has enough going for it to set it apart from many others. It doesn’t put it’s best foot forward, featuring a generic sub-par first act with an over-reliance on jump-scares and minimal development, but once it picks up the pace, it’s one hell of a ride.

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