Horror movies about religion often seem designed to provoke as much as scare. Consider Stigmata implying the Catholic Church is hiding a secret gospel of Jesus, The Devil Conspiracy’s central cult trying to put Satan into the cloned body of the baby Jesus, and the insinuation in Consecration that the Vatican is willing to perpetuate evil to maintain power. Then there’s the unrepentant blasphemy of Ken Russell’s infamous pseudo-horror film The Devils, which is in a class by itself. Religion is one of the last real taboo subjects, and it’s becoming more taboo thanks the rise of hardcore doctrines like Evangelicalism and Christian nationalism.

Immaculate is the latest religious horror film guaranteed to piss off a segment of the population. To tell you specifically what’s controversial about it would mean blowing the central twist – something I don’t intend to do. Simply knowing the set-up will give you an idea. Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) has just arrived at a convent in the Italian countryside. She’s quickly warned that Father Sal (Álvaro Morte) has a knack for recruiting “broken birds.” Not long after arriving, Cecilia finds herself pregnant, despite being a virgin.

If you know anything about Christianity, you understand the significance of a virgin pregnancy. If you know anything about religious horror, you know something untoward is happening in that convent. Immaculate follows Cecilia as she tries to make sense of a nightmare scenario being forced upon her by the Church patriarchy. Things she witnesses taking place behind the scenes are eerie and bloody, and there’s a thrilling scene where she makes a daring escape attempt.


The story has a few predictable elements. For example, when a fellow nun tells Cecilia the catacombs underneath the convent are off limits, we understand those catacombs will become central to the finale. Everything builds to a tense climax – a squirm-worthy sequence where the young nun has to make a decision with profound implications either way. (Sweeney deserves some sort of award for her performance in this scene. I don’t know where that came from, but holy cow.) Her dilemma is the most specific element in Immaculate that will offend certain viewers, even though the movie does the necessary legwork to justify it.

You can read the film any number of ways. At one level, it’s certainly a feminist tale about a woman determined to prevent the men in her life from dictating what happens with her own body. I would argue that it also deals with the idea of people using “God’s will” to prop up their own bad behavior. Tell yourself that you’re doing God’s work and any behavior can be justifiable, from prejudice to murder. Immaculate provides an extreme example of that notion, with the “holy” Church leaders sanctioning unconscionable acts in the name of righteousness.

With a running time of 89 minutes, including end credits, room existed for the movie to develop and elongate its themes more fully. As it stands, Immaculate still works as a piece of nunsploitation. Sweeney is terrific, the production design and cinematography are darkly atmospheric, and the plot absolutely delivers shocks. As for the bold ending, yeah, there are folks who will be outraged. I give it credit for having the guts to go there.

out of four

Immaculate is rated R for strong bloody and violent content, grisly images, nudity, and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan