Immaculate: The BRWC Review

Immaculate: The BRWC Review

Immaculate: The BRWC Review. By Joe Muldoon

The ‘80s had Jamie Lee-Curtis, the ‘90s had Neve Campbell, and now the ‘20s have Sydney Sweeney, who is rapidly becoming a beloved scream queen and has proven herself to be one of Gen Z’s finest acting talents. With echoes of religious horror classics The Omen and Saint Maud, Immaculate is director Michael Mohan’s third collaboration with Sweeney, and it’s certainly his best.

Our leading lady plays Sister Cecilia, an unusually young novice who is invited by Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) to a remote Italian convent where she’s set to take her vows: poverty, obedience, and most notably, chastity. A palpable tension is present from the moment of Cecilia’s arrival; her mentor Sister Isabella (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi) treats her with coldness –if not outright scorn–, she notices cross-shaped scars on an elderly nun’s feet, and mysterious red-masked figures seem to observe her from afar, unnoticed by the others.



Despite all this, she befriends Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), a decidedly rebellious young nun in whom she grows to increasingly confide. Shortly following a terrifying nightmare and spontaneous vomiting, Cecilia is summoned by her Mother Superior (Dora Romano), the Cardinal Merola (Giorgio Colangeli), and Father Tedeschi, who force her to reiterate her vows. Despite being a virgin, Cecilia has miraculously fallen pregnant, and the convent’s residents laud her as the newest Virgin Mary. And so begins Cecilia’s descent into her personal hell.

Before Immaculate, we had the 2007 bloodfest Inside, and before that we had the 1968 classic Rosemary’s Baby; few others have depicted and explored pregnancy in such a horrifying manner, and the fervent religiosity only adds an extra layer of terror. With footsteps reverberating around the stone-walled rooms and unlubricated hinges of heavy wooden doors creaking away, it needs to be mentioned just how incredible the sound design is, and how pivotal it is to the success of the tension. With most cinemas boasting surround sound speakers, the distant moans and groans make for a frankly bone-chilling viewing experience.

By all accounts, it’s frankly –excuse the pun– a miracle that the film came to be, and Sweeney’s efforts cannot be overstated. Ten years in the making, Sweeney initially auditioned for the film in 2014, but it never came to fruition. After a number of years, she actively canvassed for its creation by undertaking a producer role, acquiring and revising the original script, enlisting previous collaborator Mohan to direct (and what a fine job he does!), and finding a home with Neon, who are quickly establishing themselves as one of the greatest production-distribution companies around.

To have made such a concerted effort is nothing short of admirable, and Sweeney’s enthusiasm for the picture is evident throughout. Her performance –arguably a career best-so-far– is marvellous, with a real nuance brought to the role. We first meet Cecilia with a genuinely believable aura of innocence about her, and as the horrors reveal themselves, she metamorphoses into a hardened survivor, a final girl of sorts. If anything, this performance solidifies that Sweeney is a STAR, and that any future collaborations between her and Mohan would be more than welcomed.

Saint Cecilia was a third-century virgin martyr who’s now venerated as the patron saint of music and musicians. And as Immaculate crawls towards its sickening crescendo, Sister Cecilia conducts her own unmusical symphony of guttural screams, and we lay witness to possibly the most memorable ending in recent horror history. A subversion of the sacrosanct has never been so engrossing – or viscerally unnerving.

By Joe Muldoon.


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