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Immaculate Review: Praise be to Sydney Sweeney

Sydney Sweeney wears a veil in the film Immaculate

Immaculate has the suspense and gore, but an unforgettable lead performance by Sydney Sweeney truly makes it a riveting horror film.

The Nunsploitation subgenre is incredibly hit or miss, especially when you throw horror into the mix. Case in point, 2018’s The Nun might have been a box office hit, but it was destroyed by critics (it’s currently sitting at 24% on Rotten Tomatoes) for having inconsistent logic. So, you would forgive moviegoers for not exactly being excited for Immaculate, directed by Michael Mohan and starring Sydney Sweeney.

In fact, having seen the previous collaboration between the pairing, The Voyeurs (2021), it even took me a second to come around to another project with Mohan and Sweeney. I was thrilled with the idea of Sweeney taking center stage in a horror picture though, since I had been clamoring for her to do this sort of project. The first trailer for Immaculate managed to hook me by having just enough mystery, even as a person that is not the biggest fan of jump scares.

What Michael Mohan, Sydney Sweeney, and writer Andrew Lobel have cooked up here impressed me far more than I expected it to. The jump scares may be littered throughout Immaculate but should not overwhelm audiences. My guess is that the psychological aspects and gore featured will leave more of an impact. Above all, you have a performance that just might be Sydney Sweeney’s best leading the way.

Immaculate centers on a deeply religious American woman named Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) who is offered a new role at a convent in the Italian countryside. What at first seems like the ideal situation, one that God called her towards, soon becomes more horrifying than Cecilia could have ever imagined.

Sydney Sweeney puts clothes up to dry dressed as a nun in the film Immaculate
Sydney Sweeney in the film Immaculate (Neon)

Sydney Sweeney is the biggest strength that Immaculate has at its disposal, as she gives a performance that establishes her as a new Scream Queen. As she explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Sweeney has an interesting history with this project that dates back to when she auditioned for a version of it at 16. The film never got made and after reaching out to writer Andrew Lobel, the duo reworked it and made things happen, with Sweeney serving as a producer under her Fifty-Fifty Films banner with NEON as the distributor.

She clearly had a passion for this, and nowhere is that more evident than in her performance as Cecilia. Given her status as an “it girl”, selling herself as a nun is not an easy feat, but Sweeney manages to do just that. There is an innocence to her character to go along with the obvious beauty she possesses. Our lead has barely learned to speak Italian as she begins to make her journey to Rome and while yes, that is kind of dumb, it also makes her relatable to a majority of audience members who likely won’t speak the language.

Sweeney arguably gives Cecilia more depth than the script does with her shifting vocals and the ability to capture such fear in her eyes. Her character finds herself improbably pregnant and with everyone at the convent calling it a blessing. Through Sydney Sweeney’s work, we not only uncover what the truth is, but we see the physical and emotional toll that this supposed miracle takes on Cecilia. The other characters (and to an extent, the script), do not treat her like a human, so it is up to Sweeney to convey the humanity of our protagonist in Immaculate.

She successfully does that, creating a lead that audiences will worry about in Cecilia, even if this character is not given much background by the narrative. We can see ourselves in her and in Sweeney’s performance, which will make watching the film that much more terrifying.

The narrative leaves a bit to be desired, tending to fall back on horror tropes and utilizing a fast pace rather than giving our characters any sort of depth. Without Sydney Sweeney putting so much love and care into her performance, Immaculate would fall flat. Yes, suspense is there throughout, this situation would be horrifying for anyone, but Sweeney makes this story stand out. Everything else is for the most part business as usual and while I was not able to predict everything, the more experienced horror fan might.

It is so frustrating, because if the pace did not move so quickly to the point where most of our characters do not feel like people, Immaculate could have been hailed as a new hallmark of horror. Too often, the script finds itself being carried by Sweeney’s performance and the suspense rather than its own merits as a film.

Immaculate: Trailer (Neon)

So why is the rating so high besides Sydney Sweeney? Well, a great lead can take you far in horror even with narrative issues. Besides that, Immaculate is a scary film, as evidenced by the fact that even the jump scares I saw in the trailer were able to get me. The score by Will Bates also adds to the tension and eerily makes you believe that you are right there with Cecilia. There is also the gore, which is expertly deployed by Michael Mohan and Andrew Lobel at the perfect time. They let the narrative build and get you comfortable before unleashing everything available. The bloody visuals will be enough to make your stomach turn out of sheer terror.

When you combine Sydney Sweeney’s performance and gnarly gore, the result is something that is much more memorable than it should be. The final half hour or so of Immaculate will not be easy for audiences to shake. It also will sell them on Sweeney as a new Scream Queen, if the buildup to this sequence does not do that. She unearths something that even fans will find hard to believe she had in her. What audiences will see Sweeney do is terrifying and gives this narrative exactly what it needed to stand out from a film like Rosemary’s Baby (1968) even if it is not necessarily better.

Immaculate is a must see for horror fans solely because of Sydney Sweeney. Even if you are not a fan of her work, I encourage you to give this film a chance because her performance is special. The suspense and gore will also mask most of the issues that this narrative has, bringing out the fear in your heart.

Immaculate will be released in US theaters on March 22, 2024. Read our review of The Nun II and The First Omen and our ranking of all the films in the Conjuring universe.

The First Omen Film Review: Disney’s Immaculate – Loud And Clear
The First Omen has a few technically impressive scenes, but a predictable screenplay and frequent cheap jumpscares hamper its momentum.

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