Movie Review: Sydney Sweeney is scared in a mysterious Italian convent in ‘Immaculate’  

Sydney Sweeney is everywhere -- not your imagination. In the past four months, she's appeared in a sleeper hit romantic comedy, a failed superhero film, and a violent horror this weekend. Quality has varied, but for someone the culture appears to want to (unfairly) label, she is tearing through cinematic genres in record time.

She also produced the horror film “Immaculate,” in which she plays Cecilia, a young American nun who joins an Italian monastery. Her heroine encountered God following a near-death experience at a young age, and as her parish closes, she gets a chance to help dying nuns abroad. The prettiness of the new surroundings is a facade, and she discovers evil activities within the ancient walls.

Ten years ago, Sweeney auditioned for "Immaculate" aged 16. It showcases Sweeney's range (she goes from mild to primal scream) and has unique imagery, exquisite clothes, and outstanding makeup work displaying bleeding, torn faces and limbs. The film lacks confidence in itself and its message.

Many horrors have succeeded in making a rural Italian convent frightening or saying something provocative and fascinating about organized religion. “Immaculate” isn't even confident enough to let us experience this location through Cecilia. 

 It begins with a terrifying prologue to tease what's in store for our innocent girl, like a straight-to-streaming flick that doesn't want you to click away. As a theatrical release, you have to assume ticket buyers will give the movie the benefit of the doubt and not leave 15 minutes into an 89-minute run.

If horror moviegoers want as much blood and jump scares as possible, this should satisfy. Comically creaky doors and close-ups of a worried face walking around corners by candlelight are common. The ending is fiery, violent, and brutal, with a ludicrous and somewhat unjustified explanation of everything. I suppose it's over?

It won't withstand much questioning either. Consider its subtitles. Cecilia doesn't speak Italian, so multilingual nuns translate, which isn't always right. When the cardinal (Giorgio Colangeli) interrogates her, the spectator relies on Father Sal (Álvaro Morte) for translation without subtitles. Are we to trust him while everyone else is unreliable? Again, why not let us be Cecilia throughout?

This writing by Andrew Lobel and directed by Michael Mohan seems to care nothing about Cecelia and what makes her tick beyond that childhood story. Sweeney's performance, which showcases her spark and rebelliousness, is her key nuance

 Although “Immaculate” had some lofty notions about personal liberty that seemed underappreciated and she had numerous memorable movie star moments, I want more from Sweeney. She has the talent (see Tina Satter's wonderful film “Reality”), just needs the material.

The Motion Picture Association rates “Immaculate,” a Neon release in cinemas Friday, R for “some language, nudity, grisly images, strong violent content.” Duration: 89 minutes. Two stars out of 4.

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