‘Immaculate’ Review: An Imperfect Glimpse At Feminine Rage


Religion and horror have always been a match made in hell. Among the many genres out there, horror is one of the few that exposes the harsh realities of organized religion, often highlighting its discriminatory treatment towards women and LGBTQIA+ individuals. For many grappling with religious trauma, films that challenge the authority of the Church offer a sense of comfort. In Immaculate, the latest installment in the religious horror and nunsploitation subgenre, a young, devout woman joins a new parish in the tranquil Italian countryside, only to uncover unimaginable horrors behind its closed doors. 

Immaculate wastes no time in grabbing the audience’s attention and establishing the tone of what’s to come. We are immediately thrust into a harrowing scene where a young nun desperately attempts to flee the parish, only to awaken buried alive. The sheer terror etched on her face is enough to leave a lasting mark on viewers. In his debut venture into horror, director Michael Mohan crafts a memorable opening sequence that showcases his skill in setting the stage for the horrors to come. 

The movie draws inspiration from genre classics such as The Devils, while infusing elements of jump scares and a contemporary, stylized approach reminiscent of Blumhouse productions. Penned by Andrew Lobel, Immaculate initially surfaced in 2014 but failed to gain traction. However, Sydney Sweeney, who had auditioned for the film at the time, was determined to see it through. Years later, she took on the role of producer to ensure that the film would come to life. Having previously collaborated with director Michael Mohan on the 2021 film The Voyeurs, Sweeney enlisted him to helm Immaculate

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As for Sweeney herself, she embodies the role of Sister Cecilia with striking authenticity. Evoking imagery reminiscent of the Virgin Mary, Sweeney encapsulates an aura of ethereal beauty, innocence, and purity—just what the priests love. When it’s unveiled that Cecilia is bearing a child through immaculate conception, Sweeney masterfully portrays the character’s profound sadness, transforming from a radiant, hopeful nun into a mere vessel for this divine offspring. Just like with her role as Cassie Howard on Euphoria, Sweeney has no issue showcasing a wide array of emotions to let the viewers know what she’s thinking.  

Rounding out the cast is Álvaro Morte in the role of Father Sal Tedeschi, whose charming demeanor leads us to believe his intentions with Sister Cecilia are pure. Morte’s portrayal makes the character feel relatable until you realize there’s a darkness behind his eyes. Benedetta Porcaroli shines as Sister Gwen, the convent’s outlier, who is already suspicious of the Church’s doing and tries to warn Sister Cecilia. Porcaroli’s performance leaves a lasting impression, though I think the story would have benefitted from a deeper understanding of Sister Gwen’s backstory as it had the potential to add an additional level of complexity to the film. 

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On the surface, Immaculate does what it can to expose the insidious ways the Church can be exploited for personal gratification. Through Elisa Christian’s cinematography, she showcases the overbearing influence of patriarchy, depicting many of the male figures towering over Sister Cecilia and her fellow nuns. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes evident to Cecilia and the audience alike that she is stripped of agency over her own body. She is but a conduit for this child and nothing more. Though not as noticeable, the film underscores how women, too, can perpetuate patriarchal norms, shown by the callous treatment Cecilia receives from the older nuns as well as Mother Superior herself. 

While the underlying story of Immaculate is nothing short of horrifying, its visual presentation is the complete opposite. The parish setting is breathtaking, particularly when bathed in a warm, amber glow. Its opulence feels excessive, almost ironic given the potential for those resources to help unhoused individuals or those impoverished. Though a lot of the movie does have a cool grey/blue palette, there are shocking moments of gore that occur. While not adverse to graphic content, the placement of these scenes, with the exception of the ending, felt a bit gratuitous, serving more as shock value than anything else.  

Despite a few bumps in the road, Immaculate stands as a solid addition to the religious horror and nunsploitation subgenre. Director Michael Mohan does a terrific job of showing that he has the skill to tackle a horror film. While the story could have benefitted from being more fleshed out, the controversial ending is sure to provoke ample discussion. Furthermore, Sydney Sweeney delivers an unforgettable performance as Sister Cecilia. While imperfect, Immaculate is an expulsion of religion and patriarchy and a striking portrayal of the beauty found in female rage. 



While imperfect, Immaculate is an expulsion of religion and patriarchy and a striking portrayal of the beauty found in female rage. 



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