Sydney Sweeney’s Brief and Bloody Immaculate Captures B-Movie Spirit

Immaculate does quite a few things well, but its greatest triumph is that it’s a tight 88 minutes. The movie absolutely rattles along, and when that’s the case, a multitude of sins can be forgiven. And it’s not as if Immaculate has a huge amount to be repentant for, but it’s not a film that’s going to resonate through the years as an absolute modern classic. Spooky convents are not unique settings for horror films. There are a smattering of irritatingly telegraphed jump scares. The resolution to the film’s central mystery teeters on the brink of ‘enjoyably schlocky’ and comes within millimetres of being ‘just plain dumb.’

But there’s a spark to Immaculate that’s undeniable. Much of that comes from the cast, who are uniformly terrific. Having invested quite a lot of herself in the film’s production, Sydney Sweeney clearly relishes her leading role as Cecilia. She’s a pious, wide-eyed woman from Michigan who gets recruited to join a convent in the Italian countryside by the charismatic Father Sal Tedeschi (the effervescent Alvaro Morté). The big move seems to broadly be working out for her until she inexplicably falls pregnant, at which point everything gets a bit kooky. Benedetta Porcaroli brings charm and moxie as the subversive Sister Gwen, and Dora Romano as the Mother Superior shows off a lot more range and charisma than a role like that might theoretically permit her to do.

All of these actors and more get drenched in buckets of blood and guts. Immaculate is an astonishingly violent film. I went to see it with my pal, and listen, we watch a lot of nasty little horror films together, it’s an integral pillar of our love affair, but there were at least three separate instances when we turned to each other and gritted our teeth. There were times where the sheer relish and flair with which blood is deployed in Immaculate, particularly during the demented final third of the film, reminded me of 2021’s Malignantwhich was the last film I saw which took so much pleasure in splattering red fluid across the screen. Similarly, the hallucinatory religious atmosphere, and the evocation of the increasing feeling of detachment from being in a European country with increasingly odd customs, bears obvious comparisons to MidsommarUltimately, Immaculate probably isn’t as good as either of those films, but it doesn’t embarrass itself in their company either.

For all the violence and troubling religious obsession, however, the ultimate horror in Immaculate is, as it should be, pregnancy. It’s not really a spoiler to disclose that all is not quite right with the seemingly divine intervention that has left Cecilia with child, but even before all the shit really hits the fan there, Immaculate makes the most of pregnancy as a real life body horror. The lingering shots of Cecilia’s swollen, distorted belly, the intermittent outbreaks of vomiting, even acts as small as the untrustworthy Dr. Gallo smearing gel on her midriff to perform the ultrasound. The effect of seeing all this documented is to induce a queasy kind of enforced voyeurism in you. Again, it’s hardly unheard of for a horror film to make use of the effect pregnancy has on the body, the way the mundane is blurred with the bizarre, and the cavalcade of indignities that a woman has to trudge through. But it still really works as the thing that ties the movie together, with the nightmare ratcheting up as we tick inexorably towards the birth itself.

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So, yes, Immaculate doesn’t reinvent the genre. There’s that old adage about all creativity being theft, and about borrowing from enough different sources to give the effect of something original, but it doesn’t entirely succeed at doing that. Its fairly obvious array of influences limit the heights that it can reach, but it also gives it enough ideas and momentum to sustain that 88 minute run time. There are few wasted breaths in Immaculate; certainly the first third of the movie is quite quiet and unremarkable in its setting up of various threads, but that’s only really noteworthy because the final two thirds are so in your face. I don’t think there are many viewers who’ll give Immaculate repeat viewings, but for that hour and a half in the cinema, it’s a really good time watching Sydney Sweeney have a really bad time.

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Immaculate is in cinemas now