Immaculate Is a Blasphemous Battle for Autonomy

Courtesy of Neon

Religion has always coexisted with horror because they are two sides of the same coin. People watch horror movies to feel safely out of control, and they turn to religion to find peace in a world where there doesn’t seem to be solid ground to stand on. Religion gives purpose, even in situations, like horror movies, that feel hopeless. In that sense, Immaculate is another movie in a long, long list of horror media that has a central theme of religion. It’s a category of films that has existed for over a century and will continue on after the final credits roll, but Immaculate reinvigorates and adds new blood to the genre.

Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) has been called from the United States to a remote convent in the Italian countryside. This particular convent is where older, sick nuns go to live out their final days. Cecilia was personally invited by Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), who believes she will find her true purpose here. That speaks to Cecilia. When she was twelve, she fell into a frozen lake and was technically dead for seven minutes. Cecilia believes that God kept her alive for something truly great, and maybe serving the old nuns will help her discover what that is. Despite quickly befriending Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), Cecilia grows suspicious when she discovers that she’s pregnant, even though she never broke her vow of chastity. This is just the first sign that something odd is afoot within the convent.

Cecilia in a Virgin Mary-type outfit
Courtesy of Neon

There’s a trend in horror movies and thrillers where strange events are allowed to happen, but are never fully explained. Shocking imagery exists to unsettle the audience without serving a larger role in the narrative. This bothers some people more than others when they’re critiquing a horror flick. To Immaculate’s credit, they only fall on this crutch when including the nuns with the red face coverings. They were prominent in teasers, trailers, social media marketing, and even made an appearance at the SXSW premiere. These red-masked nuns do an immaculate (pardon the pun) job of creating the unsettling tone, but they don’t amount to anything more than creepy imagery.

Immaculate straddles the line between popcorn horror and more nuanced fare. Strictly from the popcorn horror point of view, Immaculate works exceptionally well. Sure, the audience can pick up the beats and the general direction the film is headed in, but Immaculate delivers wholeheartedly on what it promises. Sweeney (Anyone But You, Madame Web), as other reviews have noted, has solidified herself as a scream queen. Her character also beats the trope of acting like an utter moron when it comes to problem-solving. Cecilia is clever and actively works to find a path to freedom once she realizes the darkness that is shrouding the convent. That’s more than can be said for a lot of people in Cecilia’s shoes.

Cecilia looks off in the distance, she's wearing a nun habit with blood on the collar
Courtesy of Neon

Without spoiling the ulterior motives of the film’s villains, there’s a lot of untapped potential in Immaculate. The film could have very easily turned into a full-blown horror flick about the intense changes that happen to a woman’s body when she’s pregnant. Cecilia loses a tooth, peels off a fingernail, and has a partial Cesarean section during the film. While this could be seen as an attempt to make the audience squirm in their seats, it’s the reality of pregnancy. Teeth can fall out, fingernails split more easily, and roughly 32% of births in the United States are Cesarean deliveries. Immaculate is about bodily autonomy, the role women are expected to play in society, and how religion impacts everything.

As promised by Sweeney and director Michael Mohan, Immaculate’s final fifteen minutes are worth the price of admission. It’s a gonzo, bloody act of rebellion at the hands of Sweeney’s Cecilia. It’s during the final moments that the film leads audiences into an underground labyrinth of catacombs with Cecilia, a flickering flashlight, and an evil entity on her heels. These moments will likely stay with the audience long after the film ends. With every flicker of the flight, gasps echo throughout the theater. It’s a bloody, unrelenting, claustrophobic nightmare. Even the film’s final moment doesn’t feel cathartic. Tension builds without relief, and the audience is forced to walk out of the theater desperate to catch their breath.

For all of Immaculate’s blood, it could stand to be a little gutsier. Immaculate hints at deeper themes, but it’s hard to find fault with the film’s execution. It’s exactly as promised, and that’s more than a lot of movies can say. It’s gnarly, disarmingly funny, and the birth of a new scream-queen great.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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