Likely, all serious horror fans know the name Darren Lynn Bousman, or at least it sounds familiar, after all he directed the first 3-sequels of the Saw franchise, before embarking on his own path in filmmaking, namely in the horror genre, and when hints of a nun-themed flick started making the rounds the excitement grew. He’s done quite a bit in scaring or better yet shocking the audiences over the past few years, always willing to mix and dabble in the genres, such he did with The Devil’s Carnival (2012), but this movie steps back from all-out gore factors (yes there’s a hint) but it goes in the direction of a tension film experience, similar to Abattoir (2016). He works to create an atmospheric production with a tight budget (one can see the limitations) he does take full advantage of his location in Georgia and achieved distribution from Uncork’d Entertainment. Often when one sees four writers attached to a film and it isn’t an anthology movie some concern evolves within them, very understandable, however Andy Demetrio, Sara Sometti Michaels, Shaun Fletcher (Exit 14 [2014]) and Clint Sears work to create a 1950s setting of nuns caring for unwed mothers-to-be, while trying to exploit religious terrors. An interest side note while the film premiere occurred on April 20th, 2018 for the beginning of its festival run, its official release is on a limited theatrical engagement which starts February 8th, three days after the official St. Agatha, Saint of the Day.

Many critics and viewers have attempted to link the movie to the infamous nunsploitation movies of the 70s, while admitting to the fact they know nothing of the subgenre. Yes, you read that correctly, linking something to what one knows anything about, sort of a twist on guilt by association, often the comments read nuns involved something bad or usage of guns. Let’s define this further and correctly, leaving beyond the non-descript term of “something bad” others enjoy using, the term hatched for a story involving Nuns in a conflict of oppression versus secular freedom, leading to torture and sexual situations often leaning to lesbian eroticism. The movies (usually from Europe) often had an underlying tone, a rebellion for women against the Men of the church, their rules, designed by them, to women in submissive roles and afraid of their feelings and bodies. The comments of gun-play come a series of recent movies trying to advance the old narrative (of eroticism, sexual coercion, or demonic possession) with the combination of revenge themed movies such as Ms. 45 (1981). Not even the movie from James Wan’s mind called The Nun (2018) falls into the nunsploitation realm, it’s missing many of the key signature elements previously mention, shocking or scary scenes doesn’t land the movie in the subgenre, which likely ended in 1979, with Killer Nun (1979) of that same year.

The movie, set in 1957, it was a young woman named Mary (Sabrina Kern, her debut feature film role), with a very dark and hurtful past, not an innocent soul, one who encountered mistreatment and inflicted that too on others, but she has one problem that the society of then found too offensive, a serious taboo, she’s unwed and pregnant. She arrived at this station in life through a series of events stemming from when her mother died, leaving she and brother William (Maximus Murrah) to fend against an abusive father (Jayson Warner Smith), one sad evening as she fooled around her boyfriend Jimmy (Justin Miles (The Crazies [2010]), death struck again, leaving her on a road of ruin, lies, and deceit. She finds herself approached by a Nun at a soup kitchen and was invited to stay a home run by other sisters for the well-being of women in her condition.  Soon enough upon meeting a ruthless and strict Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy (You’re Killing Me [2015]) presents these two as the primary leads in the film, Mary quickly and quietly is informed of the rules and requirements. Clearly, Bousman identifies the sinister elements in the film especially Mother, the fear she instills in them is quite deeply penetrating, no one dares cross her path, with the other sisters taking vows of silence; the stillness a tension terror, like that found in A Quiet Place (2018). The convent appears rundown, which easily becomes acceptably dismissed as forgotten by the Vatican and accepts private donations, therefore every ounce of food must be eaten nothing wasted if in the form of vomit or in the style of a mother bird feeding her young, oh yummy. I don’t want to giveaway too many spoilers, rather allow for some wholesome treats for the viewers to consume, disgust and thankful for nightmarish gothic design of St. Agatha.

Most of the cast, such as Lindsay Seim (Insidious: Chapter 2 [2013]) and Courtney Halverson (The Open Door [2008]) work to achieve a solid chemistry as Kern and Hennesy lock tightly in the leads, however Hannah Fierman (The Unwanted [2014]), doesn’t convey the true believability of a woman who suffered a stillborn situation. However, one of the sisters Paula (Trin Miller) shows by some extension the same attitudes of Mother Superior’s character in some of the scenes adding to chilling mannerisms in the household. The film, attempts to transcend a visual arc rather than merely relying on words to propel the story forward, the creaking floorboards and the customary old-house sounds, work to create suspenseful moments, but seems to drift onward a tad too much. Suspense and tension are quite commonly two the toughest elements in a film, while a jump scare achieves a lasting impact, and the absence of the extreme brutality shows a flick striving in a new direction of haunts. However, repeating actions and sequences hoping to stir the uneasiness wears quickly, numbing the audience to the scenes, thereby some dullness escapes.

Honestly, there’s not much to the plot of St. Agatha, the intentions most likely to discover by the third act, and while many try to tie the film overall back to the nunsploitation era of 1970s, it misses the mark, while the much more recent film Luciferina (2018) strives more closely to that legendary subgenre. Simply, if you seek some devious nuns praying for a spiritual recommitment to life and properness you might find some salvation with the movie, aid you in your religious horror.

IMDb Rating: 5.3/10

Baron’s Rating:  5.0/10