Friday, March 22, 2024

Immaculate, Starring Sister Sydney Sweeney

In the Conjuring franchise’s Nun films, the evil nun is not really a nun. The demon Valak assumed its habit-shrouded form to pervert an image of Christianity. However, these nasty nuns are really nuns and the questionable priests are really priests. A young, innocent American novice assumes nothing bad can happen in her new Italian convent, but, boy, is she wrong in Michael Mohan’s Immaculate, which opens today in theaters.

Sister Cecilia truly feels like she was called to serve God, because she was miraculously saved from a near-fatal accident in her youth. Somehow, Father Tedeschi found her in Flint, to recruit her for the convent he ministers to. According to her new friend, the rebellious Sister Mary, the good Father has a knack for finding damaged or baggage-laden Sisters. Ostensibly, the convent is a hospice caring for senior nuns, but Sister Cecilia quickly suspects something more sinister is secretly going on there. Of course, we knew it from the start, thanks to the prologue that removes any possibility of ambiguity.

It turns out Tedesco and the Mother Superior have a plan for Sister Cecilia. It might be spoilery to spell it out, but the very title is a dead giveaway. On the surface,
Immaculate shares some thematic similarities with The Devil Conspiracy and Deliver Us, but the Anti-Christ never darkens its door. They are thinking about somebody else, which makes the third act and the brutal climax pretty disturbing (and arguably sacrilegious for the faithful).

The look of
Immaculate is terrific, but the art direction, set decoration, and production design can only get it so far. Andrew Lobel’s screenplay lacks the gloriously unhinged lunacy of Conspiracy or the archetypal depth and profound moral conflict of Deliver Us, Instead, it mostly serves as a broadside against the Catholic Church.

Early on,
Immaculate serves up some eerie vibes, but that is mostly thanks to the design team. However, the second and third acts are more concerned with attacking the Church and its least controversial and most widely held beliefs. Frustratingly, the of-the-moment Sydney Sweeney is entirely wasted as Sister Cecilia, who is a shrinking violet for 95% of the film and suddenly a raging Medea for the final 5%.

As Father Tedesco, Alvaro Morte is too dodgy to surprise or mislead viewers, but not sufficiently creepy to make a memorable villain. Probably the best work comes Simona Tabasco as gothy emo Sister Mary and Bernadetta Porcaroli as the bossy Sister Gwen, who is sort of like the equivalent of a sorority pledge instructor.

Immaculate is over-wrought and under-baked, largely populated with under-developed cliches instead of fully-fledged characters. Ironically, it will most annoy the central core audience for religiously-themed Revelations-invoking horror. Anyone in the mood for cloistered scares should watch The Nun II instead. Not recommended, Immaculate opens today (3/22) in New York, including the AMC Lincoln Square.