Darren Lynn Bousman has had a career that that has spanned the genre from mainstream films like SAW II and MOTHER’S DAY to niche films like REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA and THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL. Now in his latest film ST. AGATHA he delves into nunsploitation but brings along a large dose of creative cruelty from his time with Jigsaw and company.
It is 1957 and Mary (Sabrina Kern) is unmarried, pregnant and down on her luck. With few options, she accepts an offer of help that places her in the convent run by Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy TRUE BLOOD). Given the strict rules and brutal punishments, it doesn’t take Mary long to suspect that something is wrong. But she has no idea just how wrong.
Now honestly I had my issues at the start of ST. AGATHA. Her ride drops Mary a good distance from the convent. The woods around it are filled with bear traps. The place itself looks like it belongs in a horror movie. I’d be ready to take my chances elsewhere after the bear traps and I can’t imagine anyone else not doing the same really.
Luckily Mary is braver than me or ST. AGATHA would be a damn short movie. Once she arrives and settles in the horror really begins. There’s a deep, very human evil haunting the Sisters of Divinity Convent and it doesn’t take long to show itself. The worship of Jesus has been replaced by the worship of Mamon and the women and their unborn children are merely commodities to be
Bousman, working from a script by four writers, Andy Demetrio, Shaun Fletcher (EXIT 13), Sara Sometti Michaels, Clint Sears (CROW’S BLOOD), does a great job of building tension and a sense of anger. The abuse and outright torture heaped on the women there while not overly graphic is horrifying. Designed to destroy their will as much as their body some of the sequences are genuinely harrowing. They certainly provide an effective build-up to and justify the film’s final act.
Hennesy contributes greatly to the effectiveness of ST. AGATHA with a chilling performance, channeling Sheila Keith in Pete Walker classics like HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and THE CONFESSIONAL. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that those films helped inspire this one either.
Kern, in her first feature film, makes a great adversary, a woman with a strong enough will to resist the torments thrown at her. She’s been through hell already thanks to an abusive father and she’s not going to go down without a fight. Trin Miller also gets a nod as Paula, Mother Superior’s strong-arm woman.
Avoiding the supernatural aspects of recent nunsploitation films such as LUCIFERINA, WELCOME TO MERCY or even THE BLOODY NUN it adds a bit of variety to this minor rebirth of the sub-genre. It’s a mix of horror and women in prison thrillers that holds your attention despite its 102 minute running time.
Uncork’d Entertainment will release ST. AGATHA in theaters and On Demand/Digital HD February 8, 2019.