Courtesy of Neon

April 17, 2024

“Immaculate”: Not Your Average Scream Queen Story

Print More

I thought I was done with horror movies, but Immaculate had me hooked from the first scene. The viewer is lifted over the rolling pastures of the Italian countryside and plopped within the iron fences of a Roman Catholic convent. Right from the beginning, I felt a sense of entrapment and dread. After Sister Mary’s (Simona Tabasco) attempted escape rife with emotional agony, the viewer is literally pulled right back into the convent. The scene cuts to black, and we meet Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney), a wide-eyed American nun invited to join the convent.  From there, I elected to watch the rest of the movie through my fingers.

Part of the terror is that the viewer is clued into the horror before Sister Cecilia. Sister Cecilia receives an invitation from the amicable and seemingly down-to-earth Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte). After her induction into the convent, Cecilia has a boozy night and things begin to spiral out of her control. Her experiences of the induction night are hazy and nightmarish, full of glimpses of disturbing rituals. Cecilia’s blurry night makes her more cautious of the convent, but doesn’t totally disrupt her trust in its mission.

Sister Cecilia befriends a spunky nun, Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli). Their moments of friendship add levity to the terror. Then, the virginal Sister Cecilia somehow gets pregnant. The miracle is announced as an “immaculate conception” and treated as a second coming of sorts. Things accelerate after this supposed miracle. The facade surrounding the convent crumbles before Sister Cecilia, as she begins to realize that to Father Sal Tedeschi and the rest of the convent members, she is nothing but a vessel for this baby.

A jealous nun tries to drown Sister Cecilia, to no avail, and then flails herself from the top of the convent. An old woman wielding long, skinny scissors visits her bedroom at night to give Sister Cecilia a haircut — a nice gesture, but poor execution. To make matters worse, Cecilia’s pregnancy has driven a wedge between her and Sister Gwen. Sister Gwen’s rebellious tendencies heighten, and her tongue tests the patience of Father Sal Tedeschi. On one fateful night, Cecilia investigates the convent for herself, finding a large file about her, confirming that Father Tedeschi knew much more about her before she joined the convent than he let on. She realizes that her being at the convent wasn’t random or miraculous, but calculated. She is told by the scissor-wielding old lady through a toothless smile that she will “never leave” this place. The rest of the movie feels like a high-speed chase. I was clinging to the edge of my seat. Cecilia puts in every attempt to escape, and along the way uncovers more and more terror. At a certain point along this escape arc, Cecilia embarks on her own revenge story. Immaculate gives us a female lead who is exciting to watch, because she is smart, scrappy and vengeful. She can be just as scary as her captors. This movie kept me captivated the entire way through. Its one hour and 29 minute running time is enough to build a lovely yet eerie setting and to contain a complex and controversial plot line. Some horror movies neglect world-building, and get right to the gore. “Immaculate” does both world-building and gore in a sophisticated manner, thereby building an extended sense of dread throughout the movie.

Lena Thakor is a Junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].