The HoloFiles

SXSW REVIEW: Immaculate

By George & Josh Bate

Immaculate review

The making-of journey of Immaculate is quite extraordinary. At 16 years old, Sydney Sweeney auditioned for the psychological religious horror film. For one reason or another, the film was never made and 10 years went by, during which Sydney Sweeney starred in the likes of Euphoria and The White Lotus on her way to becoming one of the most well-known actors working today. With such star power, Sweeney decided to revisit Immaculate and took it into her own hands to make the film. Sweeney contacted screenwriter Andrew Lobel and had him rewrite the script to match the script to her current age. Undertaking a producer role for the first time, Sweeney assembled a team of other producers, found financing for the film, and helped hire a director. As the film was developed, and as revealed in our exclusive interview with Immaculate composer Will Bates, Sweeney was interested in learning about every facet of the filmmaking process, which led to her taking on a variety of other roles, including helping location scouting in Italy and contributing to the sound mix. Now, after a long and inspiring journey, Immaculate finally hits theaters.

Immaculate follows an American nun named Cecilia (played by Sweeney), who moves to a convent in the remote Italian countryside when her church in the U.S. shuts down. What begins as a welcomed change of pace soon becomes a nightmare for Sister Cecilia as dark secrets and unspeakable horrors of the convent emerge.

Immaculate sees star and producer Sweeney reteam with Michael Mohan, who previously directed her in the underappreciated Prime Video thriller The Voyeurs. Even more so than The Voyeurs, Immaculate is a vehicle for Sweeney’s stardom and dynamism as an actor to shine. It’s a demanding role as the character goes through an arduous journey from naive and curious to vulnerable and terrified and, ultimately, to resolute and determined. Sweeney undertakes these transformations seamlessly, culminating in a commanding lead performance. The film’s extremely bloody and strange final act asks more of Sweeney than ever, and yet she completely sells what could have easily been an otherwise unsatisfying and off-putting conclusion.

Immaculate review

Unfortunately, the film surrounding Sweeney’s performance falls short. After a tense introductory scene, the first act of the film follows Sweeney’s Cecilia as she moves to the remote Italian convent and becomes acclimated to her new environment. Many similar horror films excel with atmospheric, spooky, and suspenseful first acts before arriving at a relatively disappointing second or third act when the overt horror kicks in. The first act of Immaculate, however, lacks what many mediocre horror films still succeed with. It has all the necessary ingredients for an effective horror film – a beautiful and remote location, a fish-out-of-water lead character, religious themes and imagery to juxtapose the underlying horror. And yet none of it ever really comes together in the first act.

The proceedings become more enthralling in a second act characterized by a sizable plot shift. To go into further detail about this would be to divulge spoilers, but, knowing that this is a religious horror film about a nun with the title Immaculate, one may be able to piece together what this plot shift entails. This shift adds some necessary energy and uniqueness to the film and poses a perplexing question for the lead character and, in turn, the audience to wrap their heads around.

This question receives a decidedly unsatisfactory answer, however, as the film heads into its final act. The explanation for what is actually going on at the convent proves to be as disappointing as it is disinteresting and comes across as more silly than sinister. Any momentum the film built with its effective second act plot shift quickly vacates with so many more interesting ways to answer the film’s key question left unexplored.

Immaculate review

While the dissatisfying narrative explanations in the third act greatly detract from interest and investment in the story, Immaculate commendably concludes with a brutal, bloody, and bonkers finale. The film taps into religious and pro-choice allegories throughout, but most fully and uniquely explores these themes in its visually striking ending. The last scene in particular has quite a bit to say about a woman’s right to choose and the dangers that can come from religious interpretation, so much so that it leaves one wishing the film before it was equally as effective.

VERDICT: 5/10

Drawing inspiration from Suspiria and Rosemary’s Baby, Immaculate offers a new spin on the subgenre of religious horror. Sydney Sweeney delivers a commanding lead performance that showcases the actress’ versatility and dynamism, especially in the film’s strange third act. A plot with quite a bit of potential falls disappointingly short of this lead performance, however. A first act lacking atmosphere and suspense is temporarily salvaged by an interesting second act plot shift before narrative momentum grinds to a halt with silly and disinteresting plot revelations. The brutal, bloody, and bonkers ending wraps up the film’s exploration of religious and pro-choice themes well and with striking imagery that make one wish the preceding film was as engaging. Immaculate has an interesting making-of story that inspiringly highlights what can come from determination and perseverance. It’s a shame then that the resultant film is far less interesting than its making-of story.

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