Review – Immaculate

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Overview

Synopsis A young woman enters an Italian convent and soon discovers that a dark secret is hiding beneath the surface of its stern sisters, preying upon innocent young women's bodies.

Length 1 hour, 29 minutes

Release Date March 22, 2024

 

Rating R

Distribution Neon (theatrical), Decal Releasing (Blu-ray and DVD)

Directing Michael Mohan

Writing Andrew Lobel

Composition Will Bates

Starring Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli, Simona Tabasco

There seems to be a yearly tradition that movie distributors release horror films for the annual Easter weekend. It’s not very surprising, as they make for good counterprogramming against such a hopeful holiday. Many of them though are specifically religiously themed horror movies and exorcism narratives. One can only wonder why such movies might appeal to people who don’t celebrate the holiday.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Intense violence and gore, with disemboweling, stabbings, and body parts being cut off. A woman’s face is crushed, and a large amount of blood is depicted on screen.
Language/Crude Humor: Severe language throughout the film including f*** and G**d***.
Drug/Alcohol References: Casual references to alcohol.
Sexual Content: A character is accused of having out-of-wedlock sex to conceive a child. A brief scene of female nudity.
Spiritual Content: The film is set at a Catholic convent and explores forms of religious extremism, repression, and violence against women.
Other Negative Content: Some extreme violence and anti-religious themes.
Positive Content: Themes of freedom and uncovering truth.

Review

I’ve been pretty content in avoiding watching Immaculate for the recent past. The movie was caught up in the culture-wide obsession with Sydney Sweeney’s low-cut dress on SNL, and her mouthing off about the evils of Christianity in the film’s marketing campaign. Both of these conversations were obnoxious and left me feeling gross about the movie, which made me inclined not to see it, particularly over the Easter weekend.

However, I recently read a comment from one of my Catholic readers specifically asking for a review of the film. At the time, I hadn’t seen it, but he encouraged me to do something I already felt was a good policy—to respectfully engage with non-Christian art. 

There are tons of recent films that explore Catholicism and nuns in recent memory—The Nun, Deliver Us, First Omen, Agnes, St. Maud, Consecration, Benedetta, etc. Some are thoughtful and respectful, while others are exploitational and disrespectful. However, they’re all interesting and worth discussing, particularly among Christians in how the culture perceives us, rightly or wrongly. It’s rarely a bad thing for Christians to engage with controversial art, to join in a conversation that’s being had about us, with an open mind and heart that allows us to begin meaningful dialogue with others.

That said, it remained to be seen to me what Immaculate was hoping to accomplish, but releasing it over Easter weekend with its incredibly provocative marketing campaign did signal that it was unfortunately in the latter category. Sadly, my worst assumptions about the film were confirmed upon my initial watch. The movie frequently uses Catholic imagery to look menacing and spooky, it paints convent life as dull, brutal, and repressive, and centers its ending on a plot point specifically designed to frustrate pro-life audiences. It’s about as anti-Catholic as you can get without spewing into Jesuit conspiracy theories. 

The film follows a young American woman named Cecilia who is grappling with both a childhood tragedy and the dissolution of her Catholic parish in Michigan. Seeking a new home, she is welcomed into a beautiful Italian nunnery that serves aging and dying clergy, but quickly begins to realize dark forces are at play beneath the surface of the convent. This comes to a head when it is discovered that she has immaculately conceived a baby, and that the convent has dark plans for her. 

Brief Spoiler alert: She kills all of the leaders at the convent, emerges from a symbolic Plato’s Cave, and then crushes the unwanted newborn baby with a stone—because this movie’s subtext is not subtle. 

Given the movie’s marketing, it’s not surprising that it has garnered negative attention. It’s a classic case of Nunsploitation, making a cheap schlocky horror film at the expense of Catholic women who have freely chosen a modest lifestyle that modern people struggle to understand outside of crude mockery and leering sexual objectification.

This isn’t to say that you cannot make a meaningful movie about nuns or that such a movie cannot explore the negative implications of religion. Ultimately, the film’s worst sin is just that it’s cheap and exploitative. There are hundreds of great films that criticize religion and Catholicism, but Immaculate isn’t one of them. This is no Carrie, Seventh Seal, or Life of Brian. It’s a schlocky horror film with jump scares, insane religious cults, and intense gore that makes edgy creative decisions for the sake of notoriety. 

Entirely on its own terms, Immaculate is a bad horror film and bad religious satire. It would be completely unremarkable if it weren’t merely trying to be offensive. And in a world where Sam Smith is happy to dress up like the devil at the Grammys for attention, that hardly makes it unique.

Curiously, the film shares a premise with last year’s Deliver Us, which is also a horror movie about a nun who miraculously conceives twins believed to be the next incarnation of Christ and the Anti-Christ. While that movie was severely flawed, it was made by a mixed-faith crew that made several bold creative decisions (among them being its lead character’s decision regarding the apocalypse). It’s a flawed movie, but it actually explored the implications of its premise without just being exploitative.

It should be said that Immaculate has every right to say what it wants to say. The film’s distributors are fully within their rights to sell anti-Catholic t-shirts and antagonize Christian audiences, in the vain hope it can drum up enough controversy to buy them free marketing. And those who wish to patronize it are fully welcome. Neon is certainly proud that it has become one of their highest-grossing films, earning $27 million in theaters. But I and others chose not to see it in theaters because the cast and crew acted obnoxious, and it would seem many of those people helped The Chosen’s recent box office release surpass it at $68.6 million.

Positives

+ Some beautiful cinematography
+ Solid special effects

Negatives

- Schlocky premise and writing
- Edgy religious satire

The Bottom Line

Immaculate suffers from an overriding desire to be edgy and offensive towards Catholics, but even on its own terms it's a derivative and schlocky horror film.

 

5.5

Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to Geeks Under Grace, The Living Church, North American Anglican, Baptist News Global, The Tennessee Register, Angelus News, The Dispatch, Voeglin View, Hollywood in Toto, Law and Liberty, The Federalist, Main Street Nashville, Leaders Media, and the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee.

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