Sydney Sweeney nun horror Immaculate offers plenty of gore and gonzo plotting

Sydney Sweeney stars in (and produces) religious horror Immaculate, in which a devout young nun finds her own body being treated as a means to an end by controlling forces. A guilt-free Steve Newall confesses his enjoyment.

Sydney Sweeney re-teams with Michael Mohan, her director on The Voyeurs and Everything Sucks!, for Immaculate—a wild religious horror ride that heads into unexpected territory while tipping its hat to a grab-bag of great genre influences. Unsurprising for a film set at a convent in Italy (which, as Mohan proudly tweeted, was the location for many iconic ’70s Italian horrors), Immaculate includes visual nods to the likes of genre classics What Have You Done to Solange? and The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, making good use of Bruno Nicolai’s eerie harpsichord from the latter.

There’s plenty of other classic horror in the mix too, with pics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist featuring on Mohan’s Letterboxd list 10 films sculpted the DNA for Immaculate alongside nun-spirations The Devils and Black Narcissus.

Pleasantly, Immaculate is no period pastiche or mere grab-bag of references—in both journey and destination, the horror offers plenty of gore, surprises, and gonzo plotting, wrapped up in a classical (yet not throwback) aesthetic. It comes with a decent body count too, gruesomely deploying burns, broken limbs, burial, and branding to our horrified enjoyment (and that’s just the Bs).

Ten years after first encountering the script, Sydney Sweeney has leveraged her growing clout to bring Immaculate to the screen, and in that time, Sweeney’s entry into the spotlight has seen her increasingly treated as something of a public commodity. More specifically, the actor’s physique, recently seized upon by conservatives seeking to promote a certain political agenda. For various reasons you’ll discover in the film (which, like The Voyeurs, itself isn’t shy of deploying Sweeney’s form as needed), I can’t wait to see how that crowd reacts to Immaculate, in which Sweeney’s devout young nun finds her own body being treated as a means to an end by controlling forces.

As the guts of the film is right there in the title, it’s no spoiler to confirm this takes the form of an unexpected pregnancy soon after Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia arrives at the convent. Lauded by most of her sisters for this blessing, if it’s so great, how come it doesn’t feel like it? Well, that’s because of creepy stuff going on around the convent, as well as Cecilia being treated more as a mere vessel by Father and Cardinal than a person, her own wellbeing, wishes, and personal sovereignty all secondary to her purpose (if they exist at all).

There’s no avoiding the parallels to Sweeney, and the reproductive rights of all women, especially American, but we’re not beaten over the head with metaphors here. Instead, like the film’s steady application of mood and scares, Immaculate doesn’t overplay its hand—this isn’t your Nun franchise jumpscare fest or heavy-handed allegory, but there’s plenty to satisfy both run-of-the-mill moviegoers and those seeking a little more to chew on afterwards.

Speaking of post-movie chats, while any review needs to walk a fine line in giving away exactly what happens, Sweeney’s final moments on screen are loud, visceral, and superb (Mohan citing Isabelle Adjani’s subway scene in Possession to his lead as a guide to how big a performance can be). What’s more, they’re 100% earned by a film and performance that, trimester to trimester, takes its character and audience on a journey with some entertainingly outré moments and implications.