St Agatha (2018)

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Sabrina Kern, Carolyn Hennesy, Courtney Halverson, Hannah Fierman. USA. 1h 43m

Motherhood and the church are two of the most ancient and powerful stories we have in human history. The two are often blended together in twisted tales of the rebirth of Christ or the Antichrist, or blended into complex conspiracy theories as in DaVinci Code. St Agatha pokes at the vulnerability of young women who need help when they find themselves pregnant with nowhere to go but the group of perverse sadistic nuns who run the home have darker motives for gathering such women together.

The movie sees between some secret society or diabolical satanic motive behind this poorly funded home being run by corrupt nuns. For the most part it’s up to the viewer to read the movie as they wish. While a pretty normal and creepy tale is told, director Darren Bousman interlaces psychedelic ceremonies in the basement of the home littered with neon lights, coffins, candles, torture and ritualistic burial, not something that you’d expect from women of the church, but during the filming of the movie, even the crew believed the basement to be haunted, probably because it was filmed in an abandoned morgue?

In the hot summer of 1950’s Georgia, Mary (Kern) runs a con game with her fiery lover Jimmy (Miles), they tabletop game is designed to rob drifters but when the game goes wrong they find themselves on the run, Mary, heavily pregnant when captured and is dumped at a home for unwed mothers. On entering the convent it’s clear that nothing good will come of this, the women who are already housed are quiet and skittish, they seem to act on herd mentality and the stand out actress among them is the multi talented and very distinctive Hannah Fierman who plays a timid woman named Sarah but Bousman lets her get sinister and eerie near the end of the film and it’s glorious, she really handled her self mutilation scene like a pro and personally I think she could have had a bigger part in this thriller as her screen presence is admirable.

The Nuns swan around like SS jailers, and while telling the girls that everything is being done for their good, the actuality is that they are being systematically tortured and programmed for their new life and to give up their children to the secret backers of the convent. Lead by a fierce Mother Superior (Hennesy) who is at face value in control, she sits behind her desk covered in dollar bills smoking a cigarette and dreaming up new tortures.

Mary has to piece together her escape plan almost single handedly as the other girls don’t share her grit and determination at first but being so heavily pregnant she’s not really in a position to kick up her heels and run. But it’s never clear what she’s fighting exactly, is it the devil himself of just some over zealous childless couples?

The setting of the house set back in the American wilderness catches the artistic eye, it’s both a home and a prison, with lots of scope for creaking floor boards, cobwebbed rooms and the torture garden basement, Bousman has a lot in his tool kit but manages to flush half of it away by not committing to a solid narrative of corruption or mysticism, or maybe this is an argument that both are the same? Somewhere between the accomplished jumpy soundtrack and mild torture porn there is a fairly decent story of a woman who has to do all she can to fight for freedom. But I can’t help shift the feeling that this is just another version of The Woods (2006) but with a slightly more mature touch, I’m not saying it’s a rip off, but the two films do feel very similar although The Woods is much more dedicated to it’s dark mythological storyline and without straying, it’s a stronger movie for this choice.

The most beautiful part of the movie is the breakdown and final fight at the end, when Mary has had enough and manages to hatch her plan for freedom it’s gory and begins to answer questions, it’s a chance for Hannah Fierman to shine in the darkly psychotic manner which we’ve all become accustomed to, however I really think this could have been bolstered with more energy and an attempt to think outside of the box. There are lots of elements to enjoy but it would have really paid off to venture outside of the comfort zones to try and leave a lingering fear in it’s audience.

Rating 5/10

R: The Woods (2006), The Nun (2018)
L: Nunsploitation

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