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Sydney Sweeney captivates in bold religious horror Immaculate

sydney sweeney in immaculate
Is Sydney Sweeney's new horror movie worth seeing?Neon

Sydney Sweeney has already revived the rom-com genre on the big screen this year — and now she's set her sights on bringing back nunsploitation.

Immaculate might not have the sex scenes you'd expect from that particular '70s sub-genre of horror, but there's little doubt that director Michael Mohan and writer Andrew Lobel have taken inspiration from it.

If certain moments in Immaculate evoke The Nun or Prey for the Devil (namely, nuns roaming candle-lit corridors and LOUD-NOISE jump scares), its final act and bravura ending are a fitting tribute to that era. And through it all you have Sweeney confirming yet again that she's one of the most exciting actors of her generation.

You'll come to Immaculate for the creepy nuns, but you'll stay for Sweeney.

sydney sweeney in immaculate
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Immaculate certainly isn't hiding the fact that the convent it's set at is a nice and normal place of worship. The cold open sees a nun's attempt to escape end in an extremely painful and unholy way, before we cut some time later to Cecilia (Sweeney) arriving in Italy.

She's an American nun whose convent closed down before she was effectively headhunted to join the remote convent in the Italian countryside. It's primarily a place of care for elderly nuns, but no sooner has Cecilia said her first Hail Marys than things start getting weird.

In case the title didn't already give it away, Cecilia discovers that she's pregnant despite being a virgin. It's a miracle, proclaims Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) and Cardinal Merola (Giorgio Colangeli), but for Cecilia, it's the start of a nightmare.

"Suffering is love," Cecilia is told on her first night at the convent by the Mother superior (Dora Romano), and Cecilia is about to find out how just much love she's willing to give.

sydney sweeney in immaculate
Neon

Anybody who's religious should probably steer clear of Immaculate. Even if the movie relies on familiar horror tropes, the invention comes from the way Immaculate delights in subverting religious iconography and using it in blasphemous ways.

From creepy nuns to crosses being used in anything but a holy way, the movie delivers what horror fans would expect from a religious horror, following forebears like The Devils and Killer Nun. There's an over-reliance on jump scares, but Mohan stages them well and crafts an unsettling atmosphere, using deliberate pacing to lull audiences in.

Once Immaculate plays its ultimate hand, this familiarity is arguably the point. Mohan wants you to believe it's all building to a classic fire-and-brimstone finale, yet the path Immaculate chooses is more sinister and shocking.

It requires a leap of faith (pun intended) logically, but Sweeney's committed performance sells it. Blending the showier Euphoria elements with the internalised rage of Reality, Sweeney is compelling in her first proper Scream Queen role, which culminates in one of her most impressive on-screen moments.

sydney sweeney in immaculate
Neon

If there's not much originality in the approach, then at least Immaculate manages to put a timely spin on its familiar trappings. The vibe might be '70s, but there are modern-day parallels about women's agency over their bodies and how religion can be used to justify the most archaic of rules.

These themes are ultimately not explored as deeply as you'd want, yet they smartly bring the nunsploitation genre into the modern era. Add in the presence of Sweeney and a new generation of horror fans could be inspired to seek out the early classics.

For all the impressive craft, including gorgeous cinematography that evokes religious paintings, Immaculate might not consistently do enough to fully satisfy some horror fans. Even those naysayers will applaud the final act though where any restraint goes out the window, delivering a genuinely shocking ending.

Along with Sweeney's performance, it's something you'll be talking about long after the credits have rolled. Immaculate might not be quite, well, immaculate, but it certainly packs a punch.

4 stars
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Immaculate is out now in cinemas.

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