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  • Nate Adams

'Immaculate' review: Sydney Sweeney thrives in wicked, bloody nun tale


Courtesy of Neon

 

Few actors today have the type of publicity Sydney Sweeny has been enjoying in the wake of her success following “Euphoria,” and the massive romantic comedy “Anyone But You.” That attention always comes with a certain level of scrutiny (including the constant objectification of her looks) and, with past icons or even as recently as Conor McGregor in “Road House,” it can almost overshadow whatever project the actor stars in next. For Sweeney, however, it’s never an issue and she completely disappears in Michael Mohan’s “Immaculate,” a cheeky nunsploitation flick made in the same vein as “Rosemary’s Baby,” as a virginal nurse sent to a convent in Italy who is still trying to figure out her spiritual purpose.

 

The purpose, of course, takes some dramatic (and gory) turns that may recall better films (the premise is far from original), but it's Sweeney’s wide-eyed gaze that’s crucial to the success of the film and one that keeps viewers hanging on every interaction. She thrives in her first official scream queen role playing Sister Cecilia, who has relocated from Detroit (!) to the gothic Italian countryside to ascend towards her calling and serve Christ. From the moment Cecilia steps foot in the convent, which acts as both a retirement home and hospice for deteriorating nuns, death is all around her and Mohan captures the dark corridors and eerie shadows with a prolonged sense of dread that’s hard to shake.

 

The atmospheric tension only grows more worrisome when Sister Cecilia wakes up miraculously pregnant and the spiritual leaders are eager to proclaim it’s Jesus reincarnated (“This child was conceived without sin!” they profess in astonishment). How this could happen is beyond comprehension though the script by Andrew Lobel tries greasing the wheels and offering a supernatural element that doesn’t quite hold water. Still, it puts Cecilia in a rather urgent predicament, and when nuns start offing themselves or becoming brutally disfigured, it’s obvious this sanctuary is harboring a special kind of evil.

 

Mohan, who previously worked with Sweeney on “The Voyeurs,” a throwback to cheesy erotica thrillers, uses the camera in interesting ways, allowing for intense close-ups (including a climatic five minutes that literally explodes on the screen) and shadow play, a chase sequence set in a dizzying catacomb is a masterclass in cultivating anxiety. “Immaculate” doesn’t belong in the pantheon of arthouse horror, though it owes inspiration to some of those flicks, but its stance on body autonomy and organized religion won’t be lost on anyone purchasing a ticket. And for Sweeney, it cements her status as an emerging pop cultural icon where you’re just happy to be along for the ride.

 

Grade: B+ 

 

IMMACULATE is now playing in theaters.


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