Immaculate review: "Sydney Sweeney inspires belief but the horror movie ultimately sacrifices its promise"


In horror, nuns and natal matters are having a minor moment right now. Next month, The First Omen attempts a franchise rebirth. First, director Michael Mohan (The Voyeurs) delivers Immaculate, a choppy affair with an impressive lead from Sydney Sweeney as a novitiate nun in a pregnancy pickle.

Sweeney plays Cecilia, a woman convinced God saved her for something after a near-death experience. Duly, she joins an Italian convent harboring murky secrets, where the nuns coo over a rusty old phallic nail and patriarchal fathers hold sway. When Cecilia becomes pregnant without 'sin', she’s told it’s a ‘miracle’ – but is it, though? Really?

You won’t need an ultrasound scan to discern post-Roe-v-Wade themes about women’s autonomy here. Nor does it shock when the convent’s cruelties emerge, a point given away by the ice-cold open. But Mohan keeps some gory gotchas up his sleeve, while his ringing echoes of giallo forebears show deep-seated fan knowledge.

Where Mohan falls short of his precedents is his emphasis on thudding shocks over mood, muted restraint over rapture. Even if the convent’s corridors and catacombs afford scope for atmosphere and subliminal suggestion, rote jump scares and bland villains sideline that potential.

The cast are his saving graces. Benedetta Porcaroli excels as smoking nun Gwen, while Sweeney carries the film to term with a ferocious climactic showcase. Yet it says much about Immaculate’s slippery grip on itself that Mohan stumbles here, landing a pay-off that horrifies where films like Rosemary’s Baby haunted. You’ll flinch, yes, but you’ll forget it just as quickly. Your turn, Damien...

Immaculate is in US theaters and UK cinemas from March 22.

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