Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate (2024)

‘Immaculate’ movie review: Sydney Sweeney gets intense in shocking horror film

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(Note for local English-speaking audiences: about 20 percent of Immaculate is in Italian, and only subtitled in Czech on Prague screens)

An American nun discovers all is not quite right at an isolated Italian convent in Immaculate, which opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this weekend after debuting at SXSW. Bolstered by an intense lead performance from Sydney Sweeney, this initially modest shocker will live and die based on its real stunner of an ending, which may be too much for even some diehard horror fans.

Directed by Michael Mohan (The Voyeurs), Immaculate stars Sweeney as Sister Cecilia, who opens the film as the new recruit at an Italian convent after her church in the states closes due to… low attendance. Early scenes in the movie showcase the function of the convent for caring for elderly sisters as the standoffish Sister Isabelle (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi) shows her around and the sensible Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli) shows her the ropes.

Cecilia survived a near-death experience when she was a young girl, and tells creepy Father Sal Tedeschi (Niccolò Senni) that she knows God has a plan for her. That plan seems to come to fruition rather quickly when doctors at the convent discover that she’s pregnant, the conception was apparently immaculate, and all her fellow sisters immediately hail Cecilia as the next Virgin Mary.

Despite the premise and the setting, Immaculate seems shy to deliver any real scares or atmosphere, merely suggesting that something isn’t entirely right at this convent… something that has been well-established by the film’s opening scene, which culminates in a sister being buried alive. Throughout much of the movie, however, there’s little to raise your heartbeat.

That is, until the final 15 minutes, during which Immaculate turns into an over-the-top bloodbath that may be satisfying on some levels, but is completely out-of-sync with the movie that preceded it. The finale is a single minutes-long unbroken take that succeeds on star Sweeney’s dedication to the role alone… but pushes one button too many, and loses sight of the central narrative in favor of visceral impact.

The story of Immaculate is strongly reminiscent of last year’s The Devil Conspiracy, which also involved a sinister plot to impregnate an unsuspecting woman with the DNA of Jesus Christ; scientists in that film used the Shroud of Turin to extract the DNA, here it’s a Holy Nail. But while the baddies in The Devil Conspiracy wanted to create an antichrist, the villains here seem to be genuine in their attempt to resurrect Jesus himself.

Like The Omen series, which drop its latest installment next month, there’s really no satisfying way to end this story: either the devil-baby lives through bitter irony, or the protagonist (and, in turn, the audience) succeeds and has the blood of a child on their hands. The Devil Conspiracy realized this became camp comedy, but Immaculate represents the flip side of the coin, taking itself seriously and turning truly unpleasant.

Of course, being unpleasant is a mark of honor for a horror movie, and if nothing else you have to admire the filmmakers (and Sweeney) for their sheer ambition and commitment to go places other horror movies are scared to tread. But the rest of Immaculate is just too dull for the unpleasant aftertaste to have lasting impact.


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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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