After giving us a unique twist on the vampire film in Climate of the Hunter, Mickey Reece and co-writer John Selvidge are back with Agnes, their take on demonic possession and evil doings in a convent. And while I knew this wasn’t going to be another nunsploitation film, I wasn’t expecting just what it delivers.
Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland, The Conjuring, Sons of Anarchy) is a young nun in an out-of-the-way convent of Saint Theresa. Her behaviour has been most troubling lately, foaming at the mouth, swearing at, and even attacking her fellow nuns. When Mother Superior (Mary Buss, Camp Cold Brook) asks for help she’s sent Father Donaghue (Ben Hall, Ida Red, Minari) an exorcist whom the diocese is looking for an excuse to excommunicate and his protege Ben (Jake Horowitz, Castle Freak, The Vast of Night).
A convent is in many ways the perfect setting for one of Reece’s films. His characters’ slightly off-kilter mannerisms seem more normal among a group that has voluntarily isolated itself from society. And the nuns of Saint Theresa’s are very isolated, never leaving the convent’s grounds.
The first half of Agnes takes full advantage of this. It’s as much about the characters and their relationship with each other and with their faith as it is about the demon inhabiting Sister Agnes. The interplay between the rather irreverent Father Donaghue and the extremely uptight Mother Superior is especially amusing. But the person to watch is Agnes’ friend Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked, Doctor Sleep).
That’s because Agnes takes a sharp turn in the film’s second half. Sharp enough that it feels like an entirely different film. Much to Father Donaghue’s surprise Agnes really is possessed, not just suffering from mental issues. The exorcism does not go well and the previously excommunicated Father Black (Chris Browning, Hidden in the Woods, The Last Rampage) is called in.
Meanwhile, Mary, whose faith was already on shaky ground leaves the order and returns to the outside world. A world she’s ill-prepared for. Reece’s style of portraying it makes it somewhat more interesting, but that kind of drama really isn’t my thing. And while I give him credit for taking such an unusual approach, I still found Agnes a lot more interesting when it was dealing with its namesake and her possession.
The best approach would probably have been to make two separate films, with Mary’s story acting as a sequel of sorts to Agnes. Instead, I was left feeling blindsided by the film’s sudden shift. And disappointed after Reece tossed away everything he built up in the film’s excellent first half in favour of a rather generic drama. fans of the director will still want to see it of course, but those unfamiliar with him may want to find a more representative film to serve as an introduction to his work.
Agnes makes its international debut showing on-demand as part of this year’s Fantasia Film Festival. You can get more information on its page.