‘Immaculate’ Movie Review: Shocking Ending, Slow Start

Religious horror films have carved a niche within the horror genre. These films have scared audiences for years, drawing criticism from the spiritual community. Say what you will about the quality of those films, but they have remained in the cultural conversation. That sort of baggage makes new religious horror films ripe for discourse. With classics like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby standing the test of time, they have set a high bar. Up-and-coming superstar Sydney Sweeney (EuphoriaAnyone But YouReality, Madame Web) is now making her foray into the subgenre with Immaculate.

Immaculate tells the story of Sister Cecilia (Sweeney), a woman of devout faith. In her work with the church, Cecilia is invited to a pristine convent in the Italian countryside. Over time, she begins to uncover secrets about her new home. The likes of these secrets reveal dark and terrifying horrors around every corner. What follows is a film that aspires to join the ranks of those previous legendary classics. It’s a high bar that delivers in intermediate bits and spades over the 89-minute running time. The story must establish a tightly wound and exciting mood to succeed. Immaculate accomplishes that, largely thanks to the score.

Immaculate’s Soundtrack: A Guiding Light for Tension

Early on, composer Will Bates chooses subtlety over explosive orchestral moments, allowing the tension to build efficiently. That helps guide audiences through Cecilia’s journey. The music has to tell audiences exactly how she feels from the beginning to the end. Along with the score, Sweeney’s facial reactions help to envelop the audience in her story. Combining the two crafts creates a general sense of unease from the beginning. It helps to lull viewers into the idyllic nature of this estate. That melodic quality blends perfectly with Cecilia’s apparent naivety.

From Cecilia’s looks of joy and trepidation initially, viewers understand her thinking. As the film continues, those simple looks help to guide viewers into the depravity. Once the story gets fully underway, Immaculate begins to take some twisted turns. The third act, in particular, frequently divulges into demented territory. This section particularly leads into another subgenre called nunsploitation. It provides a needed sense of fun, with Sweeney committed to the violence and brutality called upon her. It’s an exciting finale but comes quite late into the overall story. Up to that point, Immaculate can be a slog to get through due to repetitive jump scares.

Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate
Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate. Image courtesy of NEON.

Immaculate’s Jump Scares and a Sluggish Pace

As Cecilia understands more about this convent, more darkness presents itself. The problem is that the scares in these moments are not frightening. Instead, they are cheap tricks that audiences have seen numerous times before. The first hour consists of these simplistic jump scares, which create a sluggish pace. They are never terrifying, with Sweeney’s performances and Bates’ score doing a lot of heavy lifting. The fault here should not be on Sweeney and Bates but the screenplay by Andrew Lobel. The story has no narrative momentum, even for the brief 89-minute running time. Even with some comedic moments between Sweeney and a fellow nun (Benedetta Porcaroli), it becomes hard to get emotionally invested. 

Sydney Sweeney Shines in a Bloody, Blasphemous Finale

Once the secrets are revealed, Immaculate becomes the fun movie the advertisements promised. If you are a religious person, those choices could feel quite offensive to watch. The narrative takes swings that tease frightening revelations. If you’re willing to go along with the ride, this is where the film’s fun fully kicks in. There are exciting, grotesque, and continuously blood-splattered delights to be had. Sweeney sells the “final girl” energy in a way that will have audiences cheering until the credits roll. 

As her fight for survival continues, certain moments must be seen to be believed. Trying to describe them would ruin some of the most terrifying sequences. The ending, in particular, takes a considerable narrative risk. That can leave some viewers frustrated, but it left me thinking. The ending is equally exciting and terrifying, making an overall thrilling combination. For some, that’s enough to justify a trip to the cinema. Others could be disappointed for one crucial reason in the overall story. 

Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate - Still 3
Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate. Image courtesy of NEON.

Reaching that horrific and entertaining third act simply takes a long time. Even at 89 minutes, the pacing keeps us from entirely investing in Cecilia’s journey. The score’s effectiveness simply cannot maintain the needed narrative momentum or deliver proper characterization. While Sweeney is always interesting to watch, the first two-thirds call on her to do one thing. That involves portraying innocence and naivety without having to do much else. Therefore, the brief running time feels longer until the story gets truly horrific in the third act.

By no means should Immaculate be considered a complete misfire. It’s a story ripe with ideas and an unflinchingly brutal and exciting conclusion. The problem is that it takes time to reach that point. Instead, the focus is on establishing a palpable mood of discomfort and unease. The score helps, but only to a certain point in the story. A repetition begins to build early on, resulting in an underwhelming sameness. While it won’t make viewers check their watches, it will make them impatient for what will come.

Once the more visceral aspects take over, the film becomes a rip-roaring good time. Sydney Sweeney goes to some dark and fun places with an ending that will leave your jaw on the floor. Even with that shocking conclusion, the film contradicts the saying, “The journey is more important than the destination.” In the case of Immaculate, the destination is more exciting and important than the journey. 

Immaculate is now in theaters.

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