Review: Immaculate crucifies role of organized religion in reproductive rights


Director: Michael Mohan

Cast: Sydney Sweeney, Álvaro Morte and Benedetta Porcaroli



Place organized religion under the microscope and people clutch their pearls.

It’s fascinating to observe, especially for someone who is an agnostic, but, as the religious right tries to make inroads into political office, thus altering laws regarding human rights, you’ll see social upheaval and a return to horror films that invoke fear in the institutions.

A movie like Immaculate is the perfect storm to blow into theatres after the quashing of Roe v. Wade and subsequent American Red States stripping reproductive rights from women.

At first blush, Immaculate reminds me of the original Suspiria. The difference, of course, is that instead of witches, lead actor Sydney Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia is dealing with men and women of the cloth. And instead of a head witch, she’s dealing with … yes … a mad Christian scientist.

This film tackles the themes of unwanted pregnancy, conception as a miracle and the restraints placed upon pregnant women, which is all the more sobering given the changes in the U.S.

Immaculate follows the journey of the young Sister Cecilia who leaves the U.S. because the Michigan-based church she worked in closed — due to low attendance — and is looking to take the three vows of poverty, obedience and chastity in a small isolated enclave in Italy. After celebrating her vows, where there is trepidation at kissing the Cardinal’s ring, Cecilia reveals that her path to being a nun started with a near-death experience.

After stumbling upon a nun face down on the floor in a secluded alcove of the church, she is shown a relic by the Mother Superior. It is alleged the long “nail” is one that was hammered into Jesus during the crucifixion. And then, as Sister Cecilia holds the relic, she passes out.

Now, that foot-long nail seems egregiously long, and in pretty damn good condition for a 2,000-year-old relic. I don’t doubt relics exist, as the discovery of two such nails in the tomb of High Priest Caiaphas, the man who handed Jesus over to the Romans, but to be in such pristine condition is another issue altogether.

And perhaps it’s that discovery that inspired the mad pursuit of Father Tedeschi, without going into any more spoilers.

Now, it was no accident that Immaculate was released in theatres leading up to Easter. It makes it all the more lurid and sobering. And the fact that the marketing team leaned into the reaction of those clutching pearls made the film all the more appealing.

And that attitude is in line with the tone of the film. One of the best lines of the movie, delivered by Sister Gwen, is in response to the question of whether there is a God or not. “Life is so cruel, only a man can be responsible,” actor Benedetta Porcaroli said with sardonic wit while puffing on a cigarette. It sums up the feminist lens in which Immaculate is presented and makes you laugh.

Sister Gwen provides much-needed levity in a film shrouded in the institutional repression of the Church. But alas, those who thumb their nose at any institution, or demand an explanation after the public suicide of another nun, they’re silenced.

As for that “controversial” denouement, well it’s to be expected, and it reminded me of the Bob Thaves line that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did backwards and in heels. Except in the case of Immaculate, Sweeney’s character did everything pregnant and crowning.

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