Review: Sydney Sweeney Brings Sex Appeal and Media Attention to Immaculate, a Mediocre Giallo-Wannabe

The story goes that actor Sydney Sweeney (Anyone But You, Euphoria, Madame Web) was given the script for Immaculate many years ago, but the project fell through and didn't get made then. But she couldn’t shake the character of Sister Cecilia, a devout American nun assigned to a remote convent in the Italian countryside, and when the rights to the screenplay (by Andrew Lobel) were up for grabs again, she snagged them so that she could play this character. I’ve even heard people who worked on the film claim that it draws great inspiration from Italian giallo horror films. But outside of the outrageous last five minutes of the movie, I’m not seeing that. The truth is that Immaculate more closely aligns itself with the so-called nunsploitation sub-genre that was particularly popular in Europe circa the 1970s, although it isn’t even bold enough to pull that off with any gusto.

The film now in theaters works best as a tale of a young nun who finds herself pregnant despite never having had sex before, and the group of priests, bishops, and fellow nuns (and one very creepy doctor, played by Giampiero Judica) that surround her slowly becoming convinced that she’s about to give birth to the second coming of Christ. Or perhaps, it might be the exact opposite. Directed with a certain amount of atmosphere by Michael Mohan (The Voyeurs), Immaculate has more than its fair share of jump scares and tense moments, very often stemming from Sweeney being constantly observed, worshipped, and even held against her will because the church is still trying to figure out what to do with her.

The jury is still out on whether Sweeney is a solid actor or not, but when she puts on a serious face and is running for her life, I tend to take her seriously. And lest we forget the film’s final few minutes that are jaw-droppingly and simultaneously horrifying and awesome. I won’t spoil any of it, but I truly wish Sweeney and director Mohan has stayed with that tone for the duration of the movie. It might have been overkill, but when you’re playing in the giallo sandbox, there’s really no such thing as going to far.

If there’s an antagonist in Immaculate, it’s Álvaro Morte’s Father Sal Tedeschi, who oversees the goings on of the convent. Some of the nuns are clearly on the side of getting Sister Cecilia out of there as quickly as possible, while others are in league with Tedeschi and his wild schemes that dabble in unspeakable horrors. When you find out what’s actually going on, and how Cecilia actually got pregnant, no part of your biology will keep your eyes from rolling so far back in their sockets you might pass out from dizziness. Points for originality, but that’s about it. Although you might expect it from a traditional nunsploitation film (which were often about the results of suppressed sexuality), Sweeney doesn’t disrobe at any point, or at least not to a degree that would be considered tasteless, but the filmmakers still find ways around that that feel both trashy and deceitful.

There’s no getting around the fact that Sweeney is a master of self-publicity and capitalizing on her social media presence. I think that’s a big reason Anyone But You was such a success. So it wouldn’t surprise me if she were able to work her media magic on horror fans as well. Immaculate is a bit of a bait-and-switch effort that isn’t quite worth it, but the ending is so satisfying that if you do find yourself at any point in your life watching this, at least stick around until the conclusion for the film’s most satisfying moments.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.