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‘Immaculate’ isn’t bad, but Sydney Sweeney shouldn’t make it a habit

NEON

Give Sydney Sweeney credit for a highly eclectic run of movie roles, from the fact-based HBO drama “Reality” to the hit rom-com “Anyone But You” to the blink-and-you-missed-it superhero dud “Madame Web.” Add to that playing a nun in “Immaculate,” a low-budget horror movie that’s odd, creepy and occasionally campy, owing a visual debt to “The Nun” franchise and a tonal one to what the genre produced in the 1960s.

Horror often serves as a means of exploring real-world issues, and underneath the jump scares and generous helpings of blood, “Immaculate” fritters around questions of women’s rights and patriarchal policies that have prompted women to dress up like characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” as a form of protest.

Granted, that’s a lot of baggage to affix to a movie that spends a little less than 90 minutes showcasing Sweeney – who at this point seems to trend daily on social media – and unnerving opening-weekend audiences, in roughly that order.

The film also briefly features Simona Tabasco (her involvement in promoting the movie feels a tad misleading), who, like Sweeney, appeared in a season of “The White Lotus,” although any resemblance between the Italy of that show and the one displayed here is strictly an accident of geography.

Like “The Nun,” “Immaculate” brings the rituals of Catholicism together with horror. Sweeney (who also produced the film) stars as Cecilia, a young American who is selected to work at a convent that serves as a convalescent home for aging nuns.

Still working on improving her Italian, Cecilia seemingly finds a friend in Father Sal (Álvaro Morte), especially with her story of having survived a near-death experience as a child.

It doesn’t take long, though, for strange things to begin happening, not quite of the flee-into-the-countryside variety, but that’s always the balancing act in building these scenarios.

As the title would suggest, a foundational religious concept figures prominently in the plot, and as Cecilia’s situation becomes increasingly dire, her plight feels magnified by her status as a stranger in a remote corner of an unfamiliar land.

Sweeney ably carries the film on that level, though there are beats courtesy of director Michael Mohan and screenwriter Andrew Lobel as likely to elicit uncomfortable chuckles from the audience as fear.

The sole acknowledgement of Sweeney’s glamorous profile as she has loaded up on movie roles in addition to “Euphoria” comes near the outset, when a customs official laments to his buddy in Italian, so she doesn’t understand, that Cecilia becoming a nun is “a waste.”

In terms of adding another layer to Sweeney’s resume, “Immaculate,” at least for what it tries to accomplish, doesn’t qualify as a waste of time, but nor is it likely to possess much of a shelf life. Basically, it’s the kind of small movie that gets made once an actor’s services are very much in demand, though Sweeney probably shouldn’t let that impulse become a habit.

“Immaculate” premieres March 22 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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