Immaculate Hides a Sinister Secret Behind Sacred Walls

Photo courtesy of Neon

I walked into Immaculate with a mix of curiosity and trepidation. On the one hand, several early reviews (including one from our own Sean Parker) painted the film as a not-so-subtle critique of Catholicism, and since I’m Catholic, that didn’t exactly bode well for me. But on the other hand, plenty of critics were completely silent about this allegedly unmistakable allegorical meaning, so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew was that I needed to see the movie for myself, and I couldn’t wait to find out what all the fuss was about.

Immaculate was directed by Michael Mohan, and it stars Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte, Benedetta Porcaroli, Dora Romano, Giorgio Colangeli, and Simona Tabasco. It’s about a young American woman named Cecilia who travels to Italy to join a convent that specializes in caring for elderly nuns. Unsurprisingly, something about the place seems a bit off, and the odd behavior of some of the elderly patients there is particularly creepy.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Things really take a turn for the worse when Cecilia is found to be pregnant even though she’s never had sex. It’s hailed as a miracle, and as the name of the film implies, the leaders of the convent call it an “immaculate conception” (but for the record, that’s a misnomer; in Catholic teaching, the Immaculate Conception refers not to Jesus’ conception without a father, but rather to the conception of Mary, his mother, without original sin). They stop caring for Cecilia and turn all their attention to her seemingly miraculous child, and when the poor woman finally reaches her limit, she lashes out in a way her superiors never could’ve imagined.

If you’ve heard anything about Immaculate, you probably know that Sydney Sweeney’s performance as Cecilia is garnering the lion’s share of the praise, and in my opinion, she completely deserves it. When the movie begins, she’s meek and even a bit shy, and she’s just about the sweetest person on the planet. However, as the story goes on and her character becomes disillusioned with the convent, she’s asked to convey a much wider range of emotions and vibes.

Creepy nuns with covered faces
Photo courtesy of Neon

And she totally nails every single one of them. Whether Cecilia is angry, in pain, or absolutely disgusted, Sweeney makes you buy into the character every step of the way. In particular, there’s a scene at the end that involves an extended cry of agony, and if you’re a fan of great acting, that moment is an absolute wonder to behold.

However, apart from that one great performance, Immaculate is a pretty mixed bag. Let’s start with the horror. This film employs a lot of jump scares, and they vary pretty widely in quality. For example, there’s an excellent scare that seems to be inspired by The Exorcist III, and it’s shot in such a way that it makes you feel like it’s happening to you rather than to Cecilia.

That moment had my heart racing for about a minute after it was over, but the other jump scares are just decent at best. In fact, some of them, like one that’s literally just a random noise as Cecilia is walking, are actually pretty weak, so if you’re even the tiniest bit averse to jump scares, there’s a good chance this movie will annoy the hell out of you.

But on the flip side, if you’re a fan of atmospheric horror, Immaculate just might win you over. The film is much more effective when it’s trying to creep you out than when it’s trying to startle you, and Director Michael Mohan displays a great knack for using darkness and sound to craft some eerily atmospheric scenes.

Similarly, the gore in this film is pretty fun as well. Granted, the camera doesn’t show you every single hit in all its bloody glory, but what you do see just might make you squirm in your seat. Most notably, there’s a brutal moment involving Cecilia’s best friend in the convent, and I was genuinely shocked when the camera just lingered and let us watch the entire thing.

A nun holding a candle in front of other nuns with candles
Photo courtesy of Neon

However, despite some good horror, Immaculate falls apart in the third act. Once I found out what was really going on at the convent, I simply couldn’t take the film seriously anymore. I obviously can’t get into specifics, but suffice it to say that the truth behind these wolves in sheep’s clothing makes absolutely no sense. The story tries to put a unique spin on a key teaching of the Catholic faith, but if you think about it for more than a couple of seconds, the logic completely falls apart. I commend the filmmakers for taking a big swing, but it ends up being a massive whiff.

Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about the way the movie ends. Again, I can’t say anything too specific, but the final scene made me really uncomfortable. See, this entire film is an allegory for abortion, and unsurprisingly, it takes a very pro-choice stance. The way Cecilia’s superiors treat her represents the way the Catholic Church supposedly views women (although truth be told, it’s a pretty laughable caricature), and her vengeance in the third act is supposed to be an expression of female rage against the Church.

But in the very last shot of Immaculate, the movie goes beyond the typical pro-choice talking points about bodily autonomy and comes dangerously close to supporting more than just abortion. It appears to create an equivalence between abortion and a practice that almost everybody, pro-life or pro-choice, rightly sees as morally loathsome, and I find the apparent support of that practice super problematic.

So at the end of the day, I’m sad to say that I wouldn’t recommend Immaculate. Sure, the film features a great lead performance and some good horror, so it’s better than this past weekend’s other new genre release, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. But despite those strengths, the bad in this movie still ultimately outweighs the good. The nonsensical third act and the morally problematic ending are just too much for the film to overcome, so if you’re looking for some good new horror to watch, I suggest you look elsewhere.

Immaculate is playing in theaters right now.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters.

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