Immaculate Review

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Religious horror movies used to be much scarier. Even in the 1970’s when The Exorcist terrified America into a belief in the Devil again, the percentage of people claiming to be members of any kind of religious denomination was about 25% higher than it is today. This trend has been captured by Neon’s new Catholic-themed horror film Immaculate which uses our protagonist heroine’s hometown Catholic parish closure as a reason for her relocation to Italy and subsequently joining a convent there. (Harsh but okay.) It even touches on something that has led many Catholics to lose their faith altogether, like Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) asking Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) if their church had any priest issues and therefore stopped operational.

Pure at heart though she might be, Cecilia gets what Gwen is driving at, for sure – that wasn’t exactly what happened with her anyway. Moreover, contrary to usual scary movies addressing genuine life terrors obliquely, this movie still continues examining sexual abuses within the Roman Catholic Church. It’s not an exorcism movie unless you call patriarchal forces stealing away reproductive freedom demonic (cf: Baby God – an HBO documentary in 2020). Nice idea but Immaculate plays it safe all through.

Immaculate starts with a cold open where black-robed silhouettes glide through a dark, foggy courtyard chasing after one stray lamb before shifting focus onto Cecilia who has recently come into Our Lady of Sorrows convent aspiring to take her final vows. She does so under the mentorship of Father Sal Tedeschi Álvaro Morte), who was once a geneticist and is now a priest – although he looks too cute for this role. On the night she takes her novitiate vows Cecilia shares her near-death experience at the age of twelve with Fr. Sal, she thinks that God saved her for something and wants to find out what this thing is in Our Lady of Sorrows. Yeah, right.

The convent’s ambiance is partly cottagecore and partly goth. The nuns spend their days hanging laundry and tending to the sick in a green bucolic valley that sits on top of an ancient catacomb anyway. It is quite beautiful; shot in a dimly lit color scheme with flickering orange flames from candles. “At the convent, dying is everyday life”, says Sister Mary, a stern character played by Simona Tabasco to Cecilia – who does not show fright on hearing it all because Catholicism has always been associated with morbidity as seen by the sisters venerating a long iron nail as they believe it was extracted from Jesus Christ’s hand. Nevertheless, the screaming in the courtyard and red-clad nuns wearing zentai should rouse some suspicion, shouldn’t they?

Cecilia’s slow realization that Our Lady of Sorrows has a sinister undercurrent to it is a major flaw in the structure of the movie, which takes a long time to start building suspense before its climax. This lengthy period is characterized by Sweeney’s blank face and motionless posture; at most, she cries as her lips tremble, for instance when other nuns dress her in Mother Mary’s clothes for an undisclosed liturgical feast in the chapel. It would be an arresting image if it stuck with you – but very little does during the first 80 minutes of this 88-minute film.

Immaculate, however, ends outrageously and almost compensates for the formulaic storyline we previously discussed as Celia finally finds herself and there is blood everywhere around Sydney Sweeny who now gets down into what this kind of movie demands. But then again it was simply too late by then. Prior to that point, Mohan uses mere loudness (through scare-driven sudden sounds and deep reverberating music) to make his viewers experience high levels of terror. These are undermined by his obsession with such low-quality kills since he leaves behind several good prospects- like an eerie setting; a new breed of actresses; classical appreciation in terms of style or even elderly women racing around dark corridors fashioning hair dolls.


The positive features present in Immaculate make it resemble a good religious horror film: A sickly ambiance, one coming star, twisted basic idea, and freaky images throughout. This movie is visually stunning and incredibly noisy. However, significant portions are somewhat weak relying heavily on jump scares while Syndey Sweeney doesn’t get into her hysterics until it’s already too late.”

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