Photograph: Black Bear
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3 out of 5 stars

Sydney Sweeney’s blood-splashed nunsploitation horror falls just short of divine

Phil de Semlyen

Time Out says

‘The Father. The Son. The Sydney Sweeney.’ Whoever came up with the unofficial tagline for this nunsploitation horror may have consigned themselves to a spell in purgatory, but they’ve definitely nailed the full-blooded commitment the fast-rising Euphoria star brings to her first ‘final girl’ role.

The Suspiria-with-sacrements premise has Sweeney’s devout young American, Cecilia, invited to take the veil at an old monastery outside of Rome. Unbeknownst to her, but thanks to a harrowing prelude that calls back to an iconic European horror movie (you’ll know the one), very much beknownst to us, the picturebook convent hosts the kind of vicious bloodletting of which the Borgias would be proud. 

A really charismatic actor can supercharge even the most stolid genre fare, and that’s what Sweeney pulls off as the innocent but fast-learning Cecilia. Her arc from chaste and trusting to blood-caked and severely pissed-off turbocharges this workmanlike horror.

Cecilia’s lack of Italian puts her at an immediate disadvantage, distancing her from her fellow nuns, some of whom, like Benedetta Porcaroli’s spiky Sister Gwen, are already rattling the bars of their liturgical jail. Something is off here – and it gets off-er when Cecilia, a virgin, discovers she’s pregnant. An immaculate conception, as the cardinal and mother superior hope, or something more sinister?

The seriously charismatic Sweeney turbocharges this workmanlike horror 

What follows is a liturgy of classic horror moves: mysterious figures in windows, falling bodies, creaking doors, people yelling: ‘You’re insane!’ at each other – all captured with a camera that tiptoes voyeuristically through shadowy chambers and catacombs.

Entertainly, director Michael Mohan, who worked with Sweeney on the 2021 thriller The Voyeurs, twigs that the Catholic Church isn’t just a source of spiritual tension, but a terrific arsenal too. Immaculate makes imaginative use of crucifixes, rosaries, and at least one crucifixion nail in all kinds of ways the Papacy didn’t intend. None of it is quite played for laughs, but if you’re not taking guilty pleasure in seeing an oily Cardinal getting offed with his own sacred objects, this probably isn’t the film for you. 

It all makes for a hardly original but still oddly habit-forming watch. Nuns on the Run is now no longer the most harrowing thing to happen in a nunnery.

In cinemas worldwide now.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Michael Mohan
  • Screenwriter:Andrew Lobel
  • Cast:
    • Sydney Sweeney
    • Álvaro Morte
    • Benedetta Porcaroli
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