Film review: Immaculate

Sydney-Sweeney-Plays-a-Nun-Experiencing-a-Hellish-Miracle-in-Creepy-Trailer-for-Immaculate-012524-a7ec0cfcc9e943a08a1d3ae0e16bcfd9.jpg (1500×1000)

Embarking on a reawakening after almost dying in a frozen lake as a child, Sister Cecelia turns to the church and the chance of a new life in a picture-perfect gothic Italian convent only to discover she could be the very creator of sacred new life.

From the director of ‘The Voyeurs’, Michael Mohan and Sydney Sweeney’s ‘Fifty Fifty Films’, production brings another take on the darkness that in films often lurks behind the gloss and comparative innocence of the Catholic church. The previous development for ‘Immaculate’ began in 2014 with a then young unknown Sweeney auditioning for the title role, which then ironically went into development hell for several years. However, it was later picked up by Sweeney’s company after her successful breakout role in ‘Euphoria’, with production picked back up in October 2022. With initial scripts based on high school girls, director Mohan changed the premise to better suit Sweeney’s age. 

With the opening scenes of a highly distraught Catholic sister desperately trying to escape the chained grounds of the supposedly innocent monastery, the character is subjected to the darkness and horror of being buried alive. Cue rising star Sydney Sweeney as Sister Cecilia, summoned by the church from the USA to Rome, with the apparent premise to help look after the ageing nuns of the monastery, and the chance for a new and peaceful chapter in her life.

Immaculate is quite rightly very much Sydney Sweeney’s film with her co-stars and the Primetime Emmy award nominated Simona Tabasco as Sister Mary, who starred alongside Sweeney in the much-respected series ‘The White Lotus’. Also, Benedetta Porcaroli as Sister Gwen as the put upon sister after the arrival of Cecelia whose nose is suddenly put out of joint with her belief she should be the next ‘chosen one’ for the priests secret work. The story is well executed with a certain calmness with Alvaro Morte as Father Sal Tedeschi, who positively excited Sweeney when she travelled to Italy for the casting of the film and realised she had found the perfect antithesis to her character’s young virginal innocence. Sister Cecelia character’s arc from the new and innocent young nun through to the very personification of the Virgin Mary. In one scene, a skilful use of a single camera pull back shot within one of Rome’s most spectacular churches, is subtle yet dramatic and creates a lasting impression with a soundtrack that leaves you feeling a certain melancholy, whilst also understating how sister Cecelia is being used by the Church for their evil ends.

The production also used ancient oxygen deprived catacombs for some well executed claustrophobic closing scenes, which restricted the acting and filming times requiring regular breaks for all involved. With many shots inside the actual church in Lazio, the original plot was meant to be shot in Ireland, but Mohan changed to Rome for the reworked story line that has almost become the expected norm for current Catholic based religious films.

The Catholic church is so often the dark backdrop as the in-between world, buffering heaven and hell with the usual overused jump scares to keep the blood pumping. Here however, the scares are not really required as the acting from Sweeney is well above parr to elevate this story above other similar overused storylines in recent years. There are several standout scenes used in the film with the reveal of sister Cecelia spitting a loosened tooth during her pregnancy, and the opening of another character being buried alive, but the main difference here though is how the main character’s arc concludes.

What can let horror films down can be a disappointing ‘reveal/twist’ in the final act. With Immaculate, the tension is expertly built up, culminating in a tour de force finale that will be spoken about among horror fans for some time. The ‘ticking clock’ plot device utilised by this and many horror films, is what drives the tense conclusion and leaves you gripping your seat. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Director Mohan must have had this in mind as he draws out the suspense to the point where you simply can’t take it anymore, then leaves the conclusion up to the minds of the audience.

With the familiar territory of the backdrop of Rome, ‘Immaculate’ could have quite easily fallen into the also ran of the ‘religious horror’ films. However it manages to rise above and delivers some classy, yet gritty darkness tropes of the horror genre. Sydney Sweeney’s recent outings have varied completely in style and reception from the successful beautiful romance of ‘Anything But You’, through to the unfortunately forgettable ‘Madame Webb’. However this brutal horror catapults you into the pit of despair in a brilliant way that leaves you breathless in the final act.

The conception of ‘Immaculate’ is not quite divine, but is elevated well above other recent horror offerings.







Author: Piers, Maidstone Store


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