April 22nd, 2024

Movie Review: Things get scary for Sydney Sweeney in a creepy Italian convent in ‘Immaculate’

By Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press on March 20, 2024.

It’s not your imagination: Sydney Sweeney is everywhere. In the past four months, she’s been in a romantic comedy that turned into a sleeper hit, a superhero movie that didn’t and, as of this weekend, a bloody horror. Results have varied, quality-wise, but for someone the culture seems to want to (unfairly) pigeonhole as a specific type, she is really blowing through movie genres in record time.

She also happened to produce the horror, “Immaculate,” in which she plays a young American nun, Cecilia, who’s decided to join an Italian convent. Her character found God after a near-death experience at a young age and, after her parish closes, she gets a lifeline to go abroad and help tend to older, dying nuns. The prettiness of the new surroundings is just a front, of course, and she starts to discover some sinister happenings within the ancient walls.

“Immaculate” is a project that Sweeney originally auditioned for a decade ago, when she was 16. If anything, it is a great showcase for Sweeney’s range (she gets to go from somewhat meek to primal scream) and is full of interesting visuals, beautiful costumes and accomplished makeup work showing all manner of bloody, mangled faces and limbs. But it’s also a movie that does not seem as sure of itself or the point it’s trying to make.

It’s not hard to make a remote Italian convent creepy, or say something provocative and interesting about organized religion – quite a few horrors have succeeded here in the past. But “Immaculate” is not even confident enough to let us experience this place exclusively through Cecilia. No, it opens with a nightmarish prologue to give us a tease of what’s in store for our innocent heroine, like it’s a straight-to-streaming film that doesn’t want you to click onto something else. Being a theatrical release, however, you have to imagine that ticket buyers are going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and not flee 15 minutes into an 89-minute run.

Or perhaps horror audiences want as much carnage and jump scares as possible – if that is the case, this should be satisfying enough. There are plenty of comically squeaky doors and close-ups of a terrified face wandering around corners in the dark by only candlelight. And the finale is fiery and violent and gruesome as well, with a very silly and perhaps unearned explanation of everything that’s been happening. At least it’s wrapped up, I guess?

But it also doesn’t stand up to much interrogation. Take, for example, its use of subtitles. Cecilia doesn’t yet understand Italian so is beholden to bilingual nuns to translate – which they don’t do entirely accurately or faithfully. Later, when she’s being interrogated by the cardinal (Giorgio Colangeli), we the audience are not privy to any subtitles and have to rely on Father Sal (Álvaro Morte) to translate. Are we to take him at his word when everyone else has proven to be unreliable? Again, why not just trust us to be in Cecilia’s shoes throughout?

This script, written by Andrew Lobel and directed by Michael Mohan, does not seem to really care much about Cecelia and what makes her tick beyond that one story from her childhood. The main nuance she gets is through Sweeney’s performance, which shows us that she does have a spark and the personality to rebel. There were some lofty ideas behind “Immaculate” that seem underserved (about bodily autonomy and such) and she gets several memorable movie star moments, but I want more for Sweeney than whatever this adds up to. She has the chops (a reminder to watch Tina Satter’s great film “Reality” ), she just needs the material.

“Immaculate,” a Neon release in theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “some language, nudity, grisly images, strong violent content.” Running time: 89 minutes. Two stars out of four.

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