Agnes (FANTASTIC) is Nunspolitation with a Turn You Won’t See Coming
First Non-Festival Release: December 10, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Mickey Reece
Writer: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
Runtime: 93 Minutes
Starring: Molly C. Quinn, Sean Gunn, Ben Hall
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
This film’s review was written after its screening at the Fantastic Film Festival 2021.
A priest (Ben Hall) is called to a distant convent to perform an exorcism on Agnes (Hayley McFarland) who has exhibited increasingly erratic and vulgar behavior over the course of the last two weeks. Accompanying him is a budding priest (Jake Horowitz) who, along with the Mother Superior (Mary Buss), finds the means employed inappropriate for the occasion. Off to the side is Mary (Molly C. Quinn) who finds comfort in Agnes’s rejection of the convent's principles and decides to leave the church once an exorcism is fully performed on her best friend. This is only the beginning of the story.
Agnes is a strange film that is sharply defined by its sudden tonal shift midway through that either makes or breaks it for the viewer.
Your enjoyment of Agnes will come down to the turn in the second act. For some, it is a welcome change and subverts the expectations one would have coming into a film like this, making it a more restrained and poignant watch. For others, it feels more like a betrayal after setting up a gleefully fun film with some solid social commentary on religion and sexuality. I am of the second camp and believe Agnes does not fully recover from this choice.
Once we realize that this story is more about Mary and her journey leaving the convent, most of the more interesting subplots and overall story is dropped unceremoniously. Truthfully, I’m not sure if her story was the most compelling out of the possible stories that could have been told if the filmmakers were still committed to the idea of leaving the church. Don’t get me wrong, Mary is an interesting character, but I found myself more intrigued with Agnes and her journey on controlling the demon inside her, since she still had moments of clarity between bouts of possession. Regardless, Molly C Quinn gives a genuine and raw performance that makes it easier to swallow the change of pace.
Some of the conversations on faith can get hammy but are still provocative. What others think or perceive can manifest in behavior. Mental health and faith can easily intertwine, making it harder to differentiate what truly makes a person happy and have purpose. It’s a horrifying concept and the team plays around with it a bit. There’s simply more time dedicated to Mary’s banal existence post-convent that we don’t get to see the more compelling parts. Beyond this, the lingering nature of trauma helps lay the foundation for why her life has veered so off-course.
What’s most frustrating is just how much potential Agnes squanders. It’s a very suggestive film that shows restraint when necessary and goes bananas to throw you off just as often. There are plenty of interesting shots and visuals throughout, especially the more horror friendly zoom ins and disorienting movements present in the first act. There’s talent behind the camera and onscreen, but it never pieces together in the end.
While its tonal inconsistencies are bothersome, it’s an overall interesting movie that I will likely never revisit. It teases a more dynamic and interesting movie and squanders the excellent comedic timing and lighthearted tone it establishes. By the time its twist happens it starts losing steam and becomes more of a chore to watch. This is apt for a film that impresses the unforgiving and repetitive life a nun leads both before and after her calling.
You cannot claim that Agnes is generic or by-the-numbers; the filmmakers purposefully construct it so that it subverts those expectations. It’s that same ruse, however, that makes the remainder of Agnes a slog of a watch. Perhaps, different audience members will find themselves gravitating towards one half over the other. Either way, the creators made something different, which I can applaud, while also re-stating that the end product just isn’t for me. Overall, I think it’s a well-made film that capitalizes on its uniqueness and will certainly be divisive once it’s released widely.
Overall Score? 5.5/10