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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Immaculate’ on VOD, a horror outing that finds Sydney Sweeney in the habit of delivering dread

Sydney Sweeney’s sex-symbol status has a bunch of y’all out there looking at her and uttering the title of this movie. But Immaculate (now streaming on VOD services like Amazon Prime Video) isn’t about the young star’s visage – in fact, she wears a damn habit through most of it, since she plays a nun who finds herself inexplicably carrying a child in her womb. Hence the title. But fear not, o horny ones, Sweeney’s second collaboration with director Michael Mohan (their previous was the erotic thriller The Voyeurs) at least flirts with nunsploitation, and delivers a devilishly good time, and maybe a morsel or two of, shall we say, devil’s food for thought.


The Gist: “I don’t think of it as a decision.” That’s how Cecilia (Sweeney) describes her one-way trip from Detroit to a 500-year-old convent in Italy – she sees it as her calling. That’s the type of  Nun Cliche any nun worth her weight in Hail Marys has repeated many dozen times over, although Cecilia certainly will regret the irony of those words when the movie cleverly reframes their context. But that doesn’t happen for a while, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. She arrives at this unnamed ancient relic of a beautiful terrifying old place on an invitation from Father Sal (Alvaro Morte), who oversees the heavily habited ladies as they care for the dying elderly nuns who have one foot over the threshold to eternity. “Death is a part of everyday life here,” says Sister Isabelle (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi), Our Lady of the Chilly Demeanor who gives Cecilia a tour of the place and makes her feel as comfortable as a rat in a cathouse. 

That doesn’t seem to bother Cecilia, whose faith is unwavering. She believes God put her on this path after she fell through the ice and drowned and was dead for seven minutes back when she was a kid. What might shake her? An awkward interaction with a priest during confessional? Sister Isabelle’s gruesome lack of a sense of humor? Having to chop a chicken’s head off to make dinner? Being shown one of the actual nails from the crucifixion, which is kept on a sacred altar? (Yes, that crucifixion, and we don’t get an answer to the burning question: Is it from one of the hands or the feet?) Seeing creepy nuns in red face coverings scurrying about hither and thither at night? Creepy dreams about those same redfaced nuns? None of it. Steadfast is she. 

Am I speaking too soon? Hell yes I’m speaking too soon. Cecilia seems to write off the more unsettling elements of the aforementioned weirdness as the price of living in a 17th-century Italian nunnery, and probably Catholicism in general. She even befriends Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), with whom she has fun as they toil in the laundry, or brush each other’s hair as they bathe in the community hot tub in a (disappointingly?) nonsexual manner while wearing long white gowns. AND THEN. Oh boy. Cecilia throws up. And if you’re watching a movie and a woman character throws up, that means one and only one thing: She’s preggers. How the hell. She was even inspected when she arrived and everything was intact. Horror. Bewilderment. Gone are the days of ducking Isabelle and courting sexual tension with Gwen, because it’s obvious that this conception is [INSERT TITLE OF MOVIE HERE]. Is this the logical conclusion to reach? Um. Sure? But is there a more logical one maybe? Of course, but, y’know, NO SPOILERS.

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Rosemary’s Baby is the obvious one. A couple of kills here that are worthy of Argento. Nun Sweeney would kick the nun from The Nun’s ass; she also would’ve made for a nicely naughty nun in Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta. And here’s a reminder that another Sweeney horror flick, Nocturne, is grossly underrated, so you should watch that next.

Performance Worth Watching: I know you’re all here for the many old ladies in habits with gnarled fingers and facial moles with one really long gross hair growing out of them, but I’m going to talk about Sweeney instead. She’s pretty good throughout Immaculate, good enough to give a fairly rote horror-thriller a little dramatic oomph, but down the stretch? As soon as she draws a big laugh when she utters “God dammit” to herself during the climactic sequence, she ramps up to full-on scream-queen status with the type of intensity that recalls two of the greats: Mia Farrow’s Rosemary and, of course, Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell.  

Memorable Dialogue: Cecilia questions Gwen’s faith:

Cecilia: So you don’t believe in God?

Gwen: Of course I do. Life is so cruel, only a man can be responsible.

Sex and Skin: Those long white gowns are pretty see-through-y when they get wet.

Our Take: A distraught Sister Cecilia parks in the confessional. “This is not God’s work,” she says. “If this is not the work of God, why does God not stop us?” the priest replies. Good job, Circular Logic Man! That’s some airtight reasoning there. I mean, God didn’t stop the Supreme Court from shitcanning Roe v. Wade! And that thematic tack is where Immaculate finds some traction, in the horror of a woman having her bodily autonomy stripped away and being forced to carry a child she doesn’t want. It’s pretty obvious, and barely a metaphor, but hey, at least it’ll piss off the Catholics.

So consider the psycho-dread amplified by societal context, stretching Immaculate beyond the usual what-the-hell-is-growing-inside-me horror story. A what-the-hell-is-growing-inside-me horror story that often indulges the usual stuff of spooky cinema, from jump scares to flashlights on the fritz to slow… walks… through… dimly lit… hallways… with comically loud creaky door hinges. The movie’s silly, although sometimes it’s not, and then it gets funny at the end, until the ha-ha laughter becomes tension-breaking laughter because that final shot just holds and holds and holds on Sweeney as she delivers the most grueling and terrifying moment of this character’s life – and lends credence to the assertion that a great conclusion can elevate a movie above the fray. Which is to say, the tone is inconsistent, but that isn’t a dealbreaker, as Mohan and Sweeney deliver gore, comedy, dread and pathos with enough intelligence and verve to make us squirm. 

Our Call: If your spirit has been broken by the typical onslaught of mediocre horror, Immaculate will cruci-fix ya. STREAM IT. 

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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