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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

REVIEW: Sydney Sweeney is stellar in NEON’s middling horror film, “Immaculate”

Courtesy of NEON
Sydney Sweeney as Sister Cecilia, an American nun in an Italian convent. As well as starring in the lead role, Sweeney is an executive producer of “Immaculate.”

This review contains spoilers!

NEON returns to theaters with “Immaculate,” their second feature film release of 2024. On a $9 million budget, the film grossed $16 million, NEON’s highest-grossing debut. As a lifelong horror lover and recent Sydney Sweeney fan, I was particularly excited. However, “Immaculate” was a slight disappointment, rife with predictable scares, saved by Sweeney’s performance and its subversion of genre expectations. 

Sweeney originally auditioned for “Immaculate” in 2014, but production halted due to unknown circumstances. After her rapid success in HBO’s “Euphoria” and “The White Lotus,” she purchased the rights for the film’s script and revitalized it as a producer, working alongside director Michael Mohan and screenwriter Andrew Lobel. “Immaculate” is the second film from her production company, Fifty-Fifty Films, the first being the smash rom-com hit “Anyone But You.”

“Immaculate” follows Sister Cecilia, an American Catholic nun, who retreats to a convent in the Italian countryside. While she initially feels out of place, she dedicates herself to the monastic life and is fulfilled in it. However, things take a dark turn when she discovers she’s pregnant, even though she’s a virgin. 

I found the film’s aesthetic to be stale and its scares overdone. “Immaculate” clearly takes inspiration from similar genre films, such as “The Conjuring” franchise, and is weighed down by these influences. This movie is filled with horror gimmicks: creaking doors, eerie shadows and vaguely unsettling Christian imagery. “Immaculate” also relies heavily on cheap jumpscares and occasional bouts of body horror to break the tension. Because the film relies so much on genre tropes and tepid scares, it seemed hesitant to truly commit to doing something new to terrify the audience. 

It would be an understatement to say Sweeney’s performance does wonders for this film. Her character is uncomplicated, and her arc is straightforward, but Sweeney performs with such vulnerability and ferocity. It left me gripping my seat. Sister Cecilia transforms from a meek, doe-eyed girl to a ferocious nun who kicks ass and takes names. To use her own words from her SNL sketch, she was known as “the girl on T.V. who screams, cries and has sex.” It’s refreshing to see Sweeney transcend this image and sink her teeth into a role like Sister Cecilia. 

While “Immaculate” isn’t exactly a think piece, I appreciate its subversion of expectations set by its predecessors. Most modern horror films that borrow Catholic imagery, such as “The Conjuring” franchise and “The Omen,” draw heavily from classic horror films like “The Exorcist.” What they all have in common is their foe: the devil and demonic possession. The horror at the heart of “Immaculate” is not a biblical entity, but the leaders of the convent. 

Sister Cecilia’s pregnancy was not the work of God after all. A combination of genetic tissue from the nail that pinned Christ on the cross and non-consensual artificial insemination was routine in this Italian convent in an attempt to usher in the Second Coming. With no resources or help outside the convent, she is forced to carry the pregnancy to term as it slowly eats away at her body. The fear of having your body used against your will parallels demonic possession plots. Given the backpedaling of abortion rights in the United States, I found this subversion to be refreshingly modern and topical. 

Overall, “Immaculate” is a popcorn movie. This film was enjoyable, though I would advise to skip seeing this in the theater and just wait for it to go to streaming. I rate “Immaculate” three and a half out of five goats.

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