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Ahavati
Tyrant of Words
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Casted_Runes said:

I like her too, I just wish she’d get a better agent


If she doesn't, I feel her fate will equal Bridget Fonda's.

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
Fire of Insight
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Joined 4th Oct 2021
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I just saw Wicked Little Letters, the new film by director Thea Sharrock and Jonny Sweet, based on a true British scandal from the 1920s, and it was brilliant. It’s my second favourite film I’ve seen this year, after Poor Things, and it’s easily one of the funniest and most purely entertaining movies to hit cinemas in a while.

Olivia Colman plays Edith, a religious spinster whose father (Timothy Spall) coercively controls her. A retired sign writer, he’s a pathetic mass of trembling rage, determined to not be seen as a “Nancy boy”. Beneath his tyranny, Edith lives a little life of ladies’ whist and “good works” until poison-pen letters start arriving through the door, using foul language to hurt and insult her family. The prime suspect is Rose (Jessie Buckley), an Irish single mother whose bawdy and roisterous ways offend the conservative elders of Littlehampton. Rose had been making friends with Edith until a disagreement with her father leads to enmity, and then the letters begin…

I was surprised to see that this film got just 67% on Rotten Tomatoes - which felt low for such a well-paced, acted, and generally realised film - until I saw the consensus which said that its “mystery” was too obvious. There’s been a kind of misunderstanding as to genre here, I think. Since it’s based on a true story you can hardly complain that its plot is too predictable; its plot is just what happened.

But I can see why some would have sat down expecting an Agatha Christie thriller, plot-wise, from its period milieu and reliance for suspense on solving a crime. It’s not a mystery, though, and doesn’t operate as such, hence why the letters’ author is revealed midway through and is if we’re being honest obvious from the start. I don’t think that the film expects you to not know where it’s going in that respect. It’s a detective story certainly, though more an inverted one where the emphasis is mostly on proving rather than finding whodunnit.

I wish I could write more about Olivia Colman’s particular genius as an actress. She’s the best English actress working regularly in film right now. There’s an expressiveness about her face and manner that can add so many shades to a character, and hers is the most complex creation in this film. She’s a full-body actress, in that she doesn’t just deliver the lines but calibrates all her movements to the character so that even minor actions reveal things about it. In a scene where she’s just walking and eating cake, while relating her recent fame to a friend, you don’t just see her perform these actions but sway her body and take a lusty bite as if drunk on the excitement of it all. And what’s most remarkable, she makes Edith not only likeable but even sort of relatable and fun to watch.

Most actresses, even good ones, would probably have leaned more into her vanity and religious hypocrisy. They’d have made her sympathetic given her abusive father, but not as empathetic. I could watch this film again and again purely for Colman’s work. How many actors can take us through pity, menace, innocence, and tragedy in one single arc?

The other acting is also stellar. Buckley is warm and tough and vulnerable as Rose. Anjana Vasan, meanwhile, is a bundle of energy and quiet inner strength under institutional misogyny in her role as Woman Police Officer Gladys Moss, the detective of this detective story.

The writing and direction are first-class. The use of music can be a little manipulative in the more moving moments in a TV drama sort of way, but the structure of the narrative is excellent, wringing suspense out of many scenes like when a character creeps across the room to extract their secret dossier of abusive penmanship. The creative use of foul language could have been tiresome and obvious, but rises to the level of the South Park movie in Sweet’s script. Wicked Little Letters is a hilarious and engaging crime story.

Rating: 3.5/4

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Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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I just watched Lisa Frankenstein and it was one of those movies where almost nothing really works, and yet… I kind of loved it.

The unfortunately named Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton) is an ‘80s teenage outcast whose mother was killed by an axe murderer. She’s now struggling to deal with a bitchy stepmother (Carla Gugino) and aggressively nice stepsister (Liza Soberano). After being spiked and then almost raped at a party, she runs into a haunted graveyard to caress a favourite tomb, belonging to a Victorian man (Cole Sprouse) who digs his way out when lightning strikes. Hiding him in her closet, problems arise and bodies pile up.

If all of that sounded like barely coherent ad-libs, it basically is. Directed - in her feature-length debut - by Zelda Williams (daughter of the late Robin), it’s written by Diablo Cody. Cody I’d argue is one of the better “name” screenwriters in Hollywood. She’s known for smart, self-aware comedies that satirise female archetypes, and it’s possible to view Lisa Frankenstein as the terminus of a trilogy featuring precocious teenage girls. Juno (2007) starred Elliot (then Ellen) Page as a horror film fan who gets pregnant, Jennifer’s Body (2009) was itself a horror comedy about a zombie cheerleader, and Cody’s confirmed that Lisa Frankenstein takes place in the same universe as that film.

Lisa Frankenstein, however, is the strangest and most disconnected work in her entire oeuvre. It’s a real oddity, lurching from one set piece to another with little grace or fluidity, and with characters who feel like straight-up space cadets. The script plays like it needed at least another draft before it made sense. Plot points seem as though they’re placeholders for rewriting later, while characters are more setups for crude jokes approaching surreal anti humour.

The film is meant as a tribute to ‘80s teen movies, in particular Weird Science (1985), the one about teenage boys who make their own ideal woman. Yet it feels closer to the madcap X-rated satires of the ‘70s. The drag queen Divine could have played Lisa Swallows and made the same jokes about vibrators and necrophilia.

I enjoyed its carefully curated visual world, with bubblegum colours and big hair, and honestly? I liked the sheer gonzo daffiness of it all. I laughed, and even when baffled was enjoying myself at least somewhat. I admit I was baffled a lot. In one scene the stepmother accuses Lisa of putting a worm in her food, when there’s no feasible way that she could have done that, and that’s the least unbelievable point. Later we’re expected to believe that sexual organs can be reused after being crudely sewn back on. (Don’t ask).

Lisa Frankenstein doesn’t work as romance, it doesn’t work as drama, it probably gets more bad laughs than good (bad laughs being where you laugh in incredulity), but if a part of you vibrates with its brand of disconnected weirdness and dark comedy, it may become your new guilty pleasure. It feels destined to become a cult classic.

Rating: 2.5/4

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Ahavati
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Another excellent review! I always anticipate these. I've seen movies like this. It's so bad that you can't stop watching because you think to yourself, "What ELSE could possibly happen?" And you stick around to see.

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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Ahavati said:Another excellent review! I always anticipate these. I've seen movies like this. It's so bad that you can't stop watching because you think to yourself, "What ELSE could possibly happen?" And you stick around to see.

ha Yeah that definitely describes Lisa Frankenstein

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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Well, I just saw Imaginary, the latest Blumhouse excretion, and it’s an Oscar contender for most boring film of the year. This was actually a major disappointment since the trailers made it seem as though it’d be visually and conceptually interesting. Filmed through what seemed to be eyeholes in a mask and evoking a topsy-turvy reality, it gave me hope that it would at least be intriguing in its idea. What it was, however, was a painfully boring series of bloodless (in both senses of the term) “suspense” scenes where people wander around a house waiting for the inevitable musical chord to strike. It’s a garbage movie for teenagers, basically, of a type that’s kept the genre going at the box office for generations.

In the olden days, if your horror film didn’t have much of a cogent plot or interesting characters, it would at least have ridiculous gore, campy humour, or even just some softcore erotica. (A few of the slasher directors behind Elm Street, Friday, et al came from porn.) I’m thinking of The Mangler (1995), Dr Giggles (1992), The Prowler (1981). These aren’t good or even passable films by any stretch, but The Mangler gives you a haunted laundry press that forces workers through a quarter-inch opening and separates them from their limbs, cops fighting with an animate refrigerator on a front lawn, and a panto performance from Robert “Freddy Krueger” Englund as well as a far too committed one from Ted “Buffalo Bill” Devine.

What does Imaginary give? At one point the teenage character’s no-good beau comes over and is given a good scare by a shapeshifting teddy bear. That’s it. No blood, he’s not even really hurt, and is promptly sent home by his mother. Yeesh. His head should have been floating in the toilet, discovered by the girl when she goes to throw up on seeing his decapitated body propped up in a chair, the teddy on his lap.

That’s Blumhouse for you, though. Director/co-writer Jeff Wadlow has a brief from CEO Jason Blum, and it’s to bring the stinker in at PG-13 (15 over here) so all the teenyboppers can feel as though they’ve seen a grown-up film. The classification card promised “strong threat” and literally nothing else. No language, no violence… Just “strong threat”. Oooo, there’s a threat that something MIGHT happen. Well slap my crotch and book a deep clean for these knickers.

I miss the days when there were compensations for finding yourself in a trashy movie, but again, it’s Blumhouse. They’re the carnival barker who promises you intoxicating sights and, once you’ve paid, shows you a bored “entertainer” in a bikini. And not even a skimpy one.

The plot is that DeWanda Wise plays a woman who moves back into her childhood home with her husband and stepdaughters, only for the younger stepdaughter to befriend a teddy bear she calls Chauncey - because despite the presence of iPhones this is apparently the 1920s - and develop an increasingly weird relationship with it.

The threat here is so nebulous and vague that it’s hard to describe. There’s something about an entity that lives on children’s imaginations and wants to draw them to its realm, in one scene as the second act becomes the third there’s a bit of exposition about fairy tales from different cultures describing real phenomena… It’s tough to care. The bulk of the film is just walking around, boo!; walking around, boo! The sort of thing that’s supposed to be suspenseful but is just vacant and formulated.

A kernel of an idea exists somewhere inside this. It was done a thousand times better in 7 to 14 or so pages by Thomas Ligotti, in “The Frolic”, a short story about a psychologist called in to assess a suspected child-killer whose identity and background are a total mystery. A child is kidnapped, their bedroom ringing with alien laughter, and left behind is a note that says that in the gutters of the universe, “my awestruck little deer and I have gone frolicking.” I was reminded of that in a scene from Imaginary where a kid is interviewed about their invisible friend. Wallow and Blum, though, are unable with their brief to be anywhere near cruel enough to make it scary. Save yourself 104 minutes, rent Songs of a Dead Dreamer from your local library or Internet Archive, and read “The Frolic” instead.

Rating: 1/4

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Northern_Soul
-Missy-
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Runes, have you seen ‘Men’ yet? (Alex Garland, 2022)

… giggedy

I’m just curious if you have, as I’m interested in your take as a folk horror fan and the symbolism is…. well, it’s intense.

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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Northern_Soul said:Runes, have you seen ‘Men’ yet? (Alex Garland, 2022)

… giggedy

I’m just curious if you have, as I’m interested in your take as a folk horror fan and the symbolism is…. well, it’s intense.


I loved that movie! It was really great and such an unexpected treat for a horror film to be that allegorically dense, as well as just getting a new “folk horror”. When I saw it in the cinema a girl behind me when the credits rolled just said “I wanna kill myself” to her mate, and me and my friend burst out laughing

It’s a film where I think very little happens literally. The early scenes, the landlord, the bird with the broken wing, all of the previous trauma in London, that’s all real. But aside from that a lot of what she experiences is just her processing the trauma. That’s my interpretation anyway.

Northern_Soul
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Casted_Runes said:

I loved that movie! It was really great and such an unexpected treat for a horror film to be that allegorically dense, as well as just getting a new “folk horror”. When I saw it in the cinema a girl behind me when the credits rolled just said “I wanna kill myself” to her mate, and me and my friend burst out laughing

It’s a film where I think very little happens literally. The early scenes, the landlord, the bird with the broken wing, all of the previous trauma in London, that’s all real. But aside from that a lot of what she experiences is just her processing the trauma. That’s my interpretation anyway.


I think it’s quite a feminist piece to be honest, but it had this kind of lush pagan undertone that I was trying to navigate that kept coming back all the way through and it almost got to the stage where you’d be processing one thing and then another would hit you round the face and I was sat there going woahhhhhh… just hold back a minute, one undertone at a time.

I did enjoy it (I’m not sure if enjoy is the right word) but as part of the folk horror repertoire that I delve into regularly I think it was one of the more intriguing offerings.

Had more going for it than Midsommar. Jesus H Christmas.

Also your cinema experience reminds me of when I watched Black Swan. I watched it in a screen with two other elderly ladies. During the lesbian scene, one walked out in disgust. The other stayed. Then right at the end she just turned and said to me “… well… that was character building” 🤣

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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I saw The Holdovers and really enjoyed it. I saw it on a whim when a friend suggested it, and approached the film almost reluctantly, thinking that it seemed like one of those formulated Oscar-bait dramas that get awards because they’re about important themes. I also hate coming-of-age films, and the marketing made it seem like unoriginal, coming-of-age Oscar-bait. However, when one character says that for most people life is a henhouse ladder, “s****y and short”, I started to thaw. By the time Cat Stevens was partway through crooning “I listen to the wind of my soul”, I was completely sold. The Holdovers is formulated, but it’s formula done remarkably well, a sweet and mellow, funny, moving, mature dramedy.

Paul Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, cantankerous teacher of classics at an exclusive boys’ boarding school who in the winter of 1970 is stuck babysitting five students over Christmas, since their parents won’t be having them for the holidays. These are the titular holdovers, including troubled Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), while also stuck at school is Mary Lamb (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), the kitchen manager, haunted by the death in Vietnam of her only child. When circumstances lead to these three being alone together as Christmas approaches, Hunham’s reclusive and ascetic tendencies create friction with Tully’s peevish loneliness. Mediated by a grieving Mary, however, a friendship born of necessity develops.

The Holdovers is shot on film and comes with ‘70s-era movie logos and scratches on the print. Writer/director Alexander Payne has joked that since he’s spent his career continually making ‘70s comedies, he might as well set one in that time and place. Many other films have furrowed this ground and stitched together these elements, of course. Dead Poets Society (1989), which starred Robin Williams as another boys’ school teacher brought low by bureaucracy though (in his case) bonded with adoring students, comes to mind.

I never liked that film, found it falsely sentimental, saccharine, and hollow. Where The Holdovers massively improves on it, I think, is in the specificity of its characterisation and greater grittiness. Paul Hunham is a real and complicated person, not a cartoon genius (though extremely gifted mentally), not a handsome god in the machine, not a caricature. He’s difficult, austere, profoundly standoffish, and with a core of wounded idealism. He’s the type who uses his intellectual passions as a shield against life, and in one very funny scene tries to connect with two men at a bowling alley bar by lecturing them on Santa Claus myths. He’s also empathic underneath all the bluster and spite that causes him to be hated by both students and faculty. and his scenes with the excellent Randolph as Mary Lamb are some of the most moving.

His growing friendship with Angus is deeply affecting and frequently funny, leading to one of the film’s biggest laughs when Hunham reveals the roots of his tenure at the boys’ school in a liquor store. The period soundtrack is a pitch perfect Greek chorus to the story as it unfolds, and I came to love the three characters, all of whom are haunted by loss and loneliness, but each of whom isn’t defeated yet.

Rating: 3.5/4

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Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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I just saw Drive-Away Dolls and it was ehhhhhhhhhhhhhh… fine. Directed and co-written by one of the Coen brothers, Ethan, with his wife Tricia Cooke, the film is a road comedy that tells the story of two young lesbians, Texas free-spirit Jamie (Margaret Qualley) and uptight Marian (Geraldine Viswanathan), as they travel in a rented car from Philadelphia to Florida and along the way discover that they’ve stumbled into a conspiracy involving a briefcase, a decapitated head, and two dimwitted assassins.

The crime plot is deliberately vague and nebulous, at one point referencing the briefcase with the golden glow in Pulp Fiction (1994). This would be fine if the storytelling was more unhinged and anarchic, but it’s really just flat, sequential, and even disjointed in terms of pacing. It has one of the most anticlimactic third-act resolutions that I’ve seen in a long time, which feels odd to say given that it involves a shooting and a decapitated head.

Moreover, Drive-Away Dolls’ occasional psychedelic interludes, a couple of which feature Miley Cyrus, don’t really do anything to justify the underwritten plot and feel more like an attempt to loosely paper cracks in the screenplay, especially given how needlessly long they are. Sometimes the use of unconventional editing just confuses things. In one of the jankiest bits of plotting, the “dolls” are bound and gagged in a room at a dog track while random ground-level shots of a racing hound running towards the camera break up the scene, presumably to indicate setting.

This was poor communication that left me baffled as to why the film was suddenly obsessed with dog racing. To cap it all, the crisis then resolves itself with a shootout that has precious little motivation, leaves one character unaccounted for, and cuts to the dolls’ escape with no indication as to how they got loose from their restraints.

Quite a few threads are left dangling, and at any rate, the main thread itself is oddly unbelievable. Once you see what’s in the briefcase, you might ask yourself why it was worth the trail of murder and mayhem that it inspired. I can understand why the antagonist might find it embarrassing, but how could its provenance be legally proved, let alone stir a scandal? The only crimes he commits, that I can see, are in his pursuit of the thing.

In the real world, when the Stormy Daniels scandal was broiling, even as Donald Trump prevaricated it wasn’t as if the macho, conservative, Bible-thumping crowd that he appealed to really cared. The president has sex with porn stars, isn’t that amazing? That was the attitude of many Americans. It would have made a lot more sense, thematically too, to give the antagonist’s secret a homoerotic element.

The film’s main selling point is the central couple. Qualley and Viswanathan are good together, their burgeoning romance sweet and cute and funny. The script has a fair few laughs and a refreshing frankness about lesbian sexuality. Oddly but not unwelcomely, it’s one of two lesbian road movies to be hitting cinemas, alongside Kristen Stewart’s Love Lies Bleeding. In the meantime, Drive-Away Dolls is good for a chuckle and a pair of likeable heroines, but you can probably wait for it to hit streaming.

Rating: 2.5/4

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Ahavati
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I always enjoy your reviews. I feel like they save me time.

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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Ahavati said:I always enjoy your reviews. I feel like they save me time.

❤️

Casted_Runes
Mr Karswell
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You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re in a glut of the sub-genre that is Catholic horror movies, after last year’s The Nun II (2023), the upcoming First Omen (2024), and now Immaculate, directed by Michael Mohan and written by Andrew Lobel. How about, for once, a horror movie where a couple of atheists sit around while strange noises occur and they dismiss it as the pipes, before turning up Eastenders?

Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney) is invited to reside at a beautiful Italian convent despite not speaking the language. (A hokey bit of plot convenience if ever there was one.) The convent houses a majority of elderly nuns cared for by younger ones, as much convalescence as cloister. As time passes, though, Cecilia grows suspicious. Why are the priest and the bishop suddenly obsessed with whether or not she’s chaste? What lies behind the creepy atmosphere? Things reach a head when it transpires that she’s no longer fasting for one…

Immaculate has been getting relatively good reviews for a piece of cheapo claptrap, and I’m not completely sure why. Sydney Sweeney’s performance has come in for particular praise. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. She’s a good actress. But it’s competent performance in service of a nothing role.

I suppose what annoys me most about Immaculate is that it’s a Catholic horror film by people who don’t know the first thing about their subject matter and aren’t all that interested in making it thematic. The story is beyond unbelievable if you know anything about theology or history or even just what words mean.

I’m reminded of Stigmata (1999), the film where Patricia Arquette plays a hairdresser who starts displaying the holy wounds that Christ suffered on the cross. She exhibits symptoms commonly associated with demonic possession, the film not understanding that that’s not how proximity to Christ’s experience works. Since, you know, Catholics don’t tend to regard Christ as a demon. Likewise, when Sweeney learns of her immaculate conception, she’s downcast and asks in a piteous voice, why me? Would a devout noviciate, convinced of God’s intercession throughout her life, be quite so glum and suspicious about this news?

A complex response to immense and miraculous events focusing themselves on her would be fine; in fact, more than welcome. Perhaps she’s somewhat dubious, afraid, unsure that she’s up to the task. We get none of that here. She responds, I’ve just realised, comparably to how an atheist would if they were for some reason staying at a nunnery when they inexplicably became pregnant.

Moreover, if you were one of the holy people charged with overseeing Jesus 2.0’s entrance to the world, would you foster a convent of lies and brutality where Christ’s mother is interrogated like a common harlot, scared, slapped around, almost drowned by a crazy fellow nun, etcetera?

This is becoming a bit of a bugbear for me, but movies like this seem to think that pregnancy is just holding a bun in the oven for nine months and that nothing short of a bazooka to the belly button can interfere with gestation. Unless you want your saviour to be either stillborn or profoundly disabled, maybe work harder at convincing the mother that you’re a touch more “Kumbaya, my Lord” and less Spanish Inquisition.

It’s hard to begin with how stupid this film’s plot is, especially without giving things away. I will say that it has an attitude to and use for relics that would seem ridiculous in an episode of Blackadder. The story tries to have a patina of scientific relevance about it, by making one character a former scientist and introducing an underground lab with deformed foetuses in jars, but it doesn’t even rise to the level of hokum.

There is zero reason why a modern Catholic institution - and we know this is the latter day because we see a mobile phone - would believe that the relic in question is actually what it purports to be. No one even bothers to explain how it can be used to do what it does besides some mumbling about DNA, although that’s almost beside the point. The bigger question from a story perspective is: if the conception involves the application of foreign DNA to a host body, how the flying circus is it “immaculate”?! By the logic of the villains, any woman who undergoes IVF - or experiences pregnancy without penetration, such as happens sometimes when a man prematurely ejaculates - has hosted a potential saviour of mankind.

(The “immaculate conception” in theology actually refers to Mary herself, and Jesus’s conception as the Virgin Birth. Though again, if Sweeney’s character is immaculate, why is she treated with such hostility and violence?)

The Catholics in this film are really Satanists, and it would have made a lot more sense to make them so. Especially since the film so clearly wants to be a sort of inverted take on Rosemary’s Baby (1968). What it doesn’t understand about that film, though, is that it was grounded in the everyday and distinguished by underlying sociopolitical themes. The occult aspect, whether or not Rosemary is really carrying Satan’s baby, might be the least interesting thing about it. The tension comes from how Mia Farrow’s Rosemary is repeatedly and systematically disempowered by those around her, cut off from her girlfriends who could support her, coerced into accepting “medicinal” beverages from her neighbours (allowing them into her pregnancy without her permission), etcetera.

Immaculate tries to evoke something similar, but it’s a case of knowing the words, not the music. Two young nuns other than Sweeney’s Cecilia are (very) lightly characterised, Sister Isabella (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi) and Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli), the former as troubled and forbidding, the latter your standard-issue Sassy Nun who makes her Sisters giggle before Mother Superior’s stern countenance. The film touches on themes of misogyny, but only by dint of what it shows; it has no real interest in the subject. There’s also a handsome mercurial priest called Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), to embody patriarchy. Morte does his best with the role and is good at conveying both charm and menace.

Although I haven’t talked about this yet because I’ve been too wrapped up in how moronic the story is, most of Immaculate is little more than Sweeney walking around while loud bangs occur on the soundtrack, for diegetic reasons that are barely justified. The movie holds your attention for a bit because it is mildly interesting to think about where it’s going, but every single bang reduced my tolerance. BANG! A bird hits a windowpane. BANG! Hands come through a wall. BANG! I don’t know what that one was! It grows incredibly monotonous.

The film’s ending is in such spectacular bad taste, following the worst possible action that it could imply with Ave Maria over the end credits, that I wanted to admire it. But being so bereft of ideas beyond “wouldn’t it be shocking if…”, it simply feels juvenile. Immaculate is boring and obnoxious in its storytelling and has a plot that could be debunked by a Year 8 Religious Education student. It’s redeemed somewhat by a cheerful goriness, though not enough to be much more entertaining than catechism.

Rating: 1.5/4

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Ahavati
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Being a history buff and bible college graduate, I definitely wouldn't want to see this one, then. It would probably just piss me off.

Another great contribution, CR.

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