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[Review]: Immaculate (2024)

In the world of religious horror, the Catholic Church is prevalent. Whether it’s the world of possession with The Exorcist (1973) and Prey For The Devil (2022), or supernatural shocks with The Nun (2018) and Stigmata (1999), every facet has been explored and every generic trope done to death to the point you know at exactly which point the crosses will turn upside down, a nun will appear in a dark corner, and an innocent victim will levitate above an altar.

Enter Immaculate (2024), the latest venture between The Voyeurs (2021) director Michael Mohan and his former leading lady Sydney Sweeney. The film has been a labour of love for the Euphoria star, who reportedly auditioned for the movie in 2014 before production fell through. She later reached out to the original writer, brought their script, and made herself a producer on the project to bring it to audiences finally.

Sweeney stars in the film as Sister Cecilia, a woman who turned to religion at a young age after drowning and being legally declared dead before - as she believes - God brought her back to serve a higher purpose. She is invited to join an exclusive convent in Italy by Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), where she befriends Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) as they care for elderly nuns in their dying days. After she begins to notice unusual quirks within the convent, Cecilia’s world is turned upside down when she discovers she is pregnant, despite being a virgin. As her fellow sisters begin to treat her like the Virgin Mary, Cecilia begins to suspect the convent is hiding a dark underbelly while taking advantage of her strong faith.

Like ornate religious artwork from the 13th and 14th Centuries, what immediately jumps out about Immaculate is its sumptuous cinematography that elevates the film to a work of art. Simple attention to detail from the lighting to the costuming means each scene is a tapestry of information to take in, grounding the narrative and its characters in a realism that is often missed within religious horror. 

Mohan is a master of tension, and this beauty juxtaposed with the film’s deep, dark heart is the perfect recipe for an edge-of-your-seat 89 minutes. Unbroken long shots and tense, silent scenes help create a sense of dread that bores under the skin far deeper than your average jump scare ever could.

As the mystery at the centre of the film winds toward its explosive conclusion, this attention to detail and character building pays off in droves as the gore ramps up to 11 and transforms what could have been a fairly run-of-the-mill religious mystery into a startling, poignant conversation on women’s reproductive rights, bodily autonomy, and fear in a post-Roe vs Wade society. While the plot slumps at certain points and the third act could have pushed it further in terms of shock value, the fully realised characters and their inner turmoil act as the perfect vessel for the brooding plot and its complex themes.

At the centre of Immaculate is Sweeney, who delivers a powerhouse performance as Sister Cecilia. As far as onscreen transformations go, hers is one of the most dramatic as her blind faith and naivety is suddenly cast into doubt and she is thrown into a horrifying situation where she must fight for survival against those she trusted the most in a vulnerable period of transition.

Brilliant, bloody, and blasphemous, Immaculate breathes fresh life into the often stale religious horror genre with a captivating plot and stellar performances wrapped in a hauntingly beautiful package.

4 out of 5 screams


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