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March 22, 2024 / Elevation Pictures

Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Alvaro Morte, Dora Romano, Benadetta Porcaroli, Giorgio Colangeli, Simona Tabasco

Directed By: Michael Mohan

Twenty-five long years after his time in the limelight, former child actor Cody Lightning tries to revive his fortunes with a self-produced sequel to Smoke Signals in this smart, irreverent new Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) is an American nun of devout faith, embarking on a new journey in a remote convent in the picturesque Italian countryside. Cecilia’s warm welcome quickly devolves into a nightmare as it becomes clear her new home harbors a sinister secret and unspeakable horrors.

Written By Darren

Rating 4 out of 5

Immaculate is a terrifying experience from start to finish that plays with its themes of religion and faith, twisting them in unimaginable ways to deliver an unnerving ride led by the incredibly talented Sydney Sweeney, proving her a true movie star, that is guaranteed to have you screaming the Lord’s name in vain throughout!

There is a force of nature taking Hollywood by storm currently, and her name is Sydney Sweeney. At the age of 26, Sweeney is building her own films from the ground up as a producer, telling stories that she is passionate about, starring in them, and selling them off to major studios. She started with last year’s Anyone But You, which became a major box office success given the size of film, and mere months later her next passion project is set to be released. After auditioning for the film a decade ago, she boarded the project as a producer and got the film greenlit, allowing this unholy horror flick to see the light of day. With Immaculate, Sweeney not only proves herself more than capable of carrying a film entirely on her own, it once again showcases her keen eye to find stories that need to be told. And this time, it just happens to be one that is going to scare, challenge and have audiences talking about it long after the credits have finished rolling.

From a story perspective, Immaculate is not without its minor flaws or plot holes, but with a tight run time of under ninety minutes and the amount of scares and tension the film packs in, it gives horror fans exactly what they are looking for. Immediately, the similarities to Roman Polanski’s iconic horror film Rosemary’s Baby are evident as Sister Cecilia becomes pregnant after a terrifying nightmare scene, which is heralded as immaculate conception by her monastery. Instead of retreading familiar territory, writer Andrew Lobel shifts the narrative focus to themes of faith and religion, taking the story in a different thematic direction than Rosemary’s Baby despite similar plot beats. While testing Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia’s faith, Lobel challenges the audience to question the safety and protection that is often associated with the Catholic Church. There are enough hints dropped along the way to suggest the direction the story is going to take if you are paying close attention, but what Lobel does so well is that he pushes the ideas to the extreme, never playing it safe to deliver one hell of a reveal that kicks off the film’s final act. There will no doubt be audience members who are turned off by what Lobel does, but for those looking for a thrilling, spine-tingling horror experience that does not hold back as it questions the power of those who claim to be doing the Lord’s work, they are in for one absolute treat!

Without question, the film does not work without Sweeney’s dazzling lead performance as Sister Cecilia. Sweeney captures the sweet and spiritual young woman ready to devote herself to God and the church that instantly bonds the audience to her character. As the events of the film get stranger and more unsettling, Sweeney dives into full on scream queen mode and proves herself a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. At the same time, Sweeney brings a fierce strength and determination to Cecilia that creates a powerful character that you cannot resist but to root for as she does anything… and I mean anything, to escape the nightmare that she finds herself living. Between this and her past few major film roles, Sweeney has solidified herself as one talented and versatile actress that will become one of the biggest names in the industry for years to come.

It’s impossible to steal the spotlight from Sweeney who’s magnetic screen presence inhibits every frame of the film, but the supporting cast puts truth into the phrase “there are no small roles”. Benedetta Porcaroli never wastes a second of her screen time as Sister Gwen, Cecilia’s only friend at the monastery. While playful and delivering some great laughs, there is a mischievous quality that Porcaroli brings to the role that makes her not only stand out, but become a great screen pattern for Sweeney. From the second you meet Álvaro Morte’s Father Sal Tedeschi, while charming on the outside, there is something unsettling about him. Morte doubles down on this feeling, helping to make that terrifying final act as exciting and nerve-wracking as it can be. And while she only has one scene, Simona Tabasco does an excellent job of helping to set the tone for the entire film.

For a horror movie, director Michael Mohan knows how to set the audience up to maximize the effect of the many jump scares. While jump scares can easily be a nuisance that ruins a horror film, Mohan uses the power of misdirection to take his audience by surprise, ensuring that viewers will be either jumping out of their seats or screaming… or even both. Using dim lighting and creative cinematography from the film’s director of photography Elisha Christian, Mohan sets the eerie atmosphere of the film, directing the camera to draw the audience’s attention one way to set an expectation for the jump scare, and then does the opposite of what you expect. Combined with the largely religious choral music at times, it creates an unholy feeling that instantly gets under your skin in the film’s first act. Then, once the film reaches the halfway mark and the gore element is introduced, the creative team does not hold back until the film’s final haunting scene, utilizing the film’s R rating to its maximum while flirting with NC-17 territory at times. The third act itself is a heart pounding experience that will have you holding your breath in fear as much as Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia is, all leading up to an unforgettable one take shot scene that is absolutely shocking. It’s sure to be a divisive moment that will no doubt have audiences talking, but for myself, there was no better way to conclude the story than it, and it’s going to be burned into my brain for days!

While the notion of Sydney Sweeney donning the habit as a young, unsuspecting nun in a horror movie is more than enough to convince viewers to make a trip to their local theatre, Immaculate has so much more to offer. Under the keen direction of Michael Mohan and the writing of Andrew Lobel, Immaculate carefully builds tension in an unsettling atmosphere throughout the film, toying with religious themes and weaponizing haunting shots against the audience to deliver what can only be described as an unholy experience that will have viewers screaming and praying for their souls. Led by a tour de force performance from Sydney Sweeney that acts as the initiation for the horror genre’s latest scream queen, Immaculate is packed with smartly executed scares, terrifying twists and turns and one hell of an ending that answers the prayers of horror fans with what is bound to be one of the year’s best and most divisive horror films!

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