‘Immaculate’ Review — Sydney Sweeney’s Horror Isn’t Afraid to Sin

Estimated read time 6 min read

The Big Picture

  • Sydney Sweeney flexes her horror muscles, which is an exciting turn that hopefully continues.
  • The film’s warped religious imagery gets vicious, but storytelling becomes ambiguous and tangled.
  • It’s indebted to countless giallo influences, but never on par with, or certainly better than.

Let me start by saying kudos to Sydney Sweeney, who hurdled mountains to get Immaculate made. Her first produced feature about nasty nuns and theological nightmares proves the actress has at least a bit of the horror bug somewhere inside. To see Sweeney fight so hard for something she believes in is an inspiring endeavor. At twenty-six, that’s a remarkable feat — it’s just a shame I can’t describe the ensuing film with equal adoration.


Cecilia, a woman of devout faith, is warmly welcomed to the picture-perfect Italian countryside where she is offered a new role at an illustrious convent. But it becomes clear to Cecilia that her new home harbors dark and horrifying secrets.

Release Date March 22, 2024

Director michael mohan

Cast Sydney Sweeney , Simona Tabasco , Álvaro Morte , Benedetta Porcaroli

Runtime 89 minutes

Writers Andrew Lobel

Immaculate is essentially “Loud Noises: The Movie.” Director Michael Mohan (who reteams with Sweeny after Prime Video’s The Voyeurs) displays an inability to control narrative advancement in perceivable chunks, taking more of a clip-show approach to unsettling Roman Catholic symbolism. Elisha Christian’s cinematography shines brightest when tainting religious imagery like Satan’s behind the lens, but Andrew Lobel’s script tells a haphazard story of entrapment. Sweeney takes plenty of risks in a lead role that’s rigorous and emotionally demanding, but the film ultimately feels a bit surface level considering how it approaches horror.

What Is ‘Immaculate’ About?

Sweeney stars as Michigan’s own Cecilia, a devout woman of faith who relocates to Italy after an invitation to join a countryside convent. Cecilia’s chosen by Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) because she’s thought to be one of God’s cherished souls after surviving a freak accident at 12-years-old. Mother Superior’s right-hand Sister Isabelle (Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi) gives Cecilia a tour around the grounds and instructions on handling delirious elders, painting an imperfect but welcoming picture for God-loving women. Cecilia believes she’s found where she belongs, but quickly learns perfection is only a fantasy.

Mohan’s visual style is wedged between the Conjurverse’s Nun series and pensive Italian giallos, as Christian’s camera slowly and obediently rolls past cathedral pews illuminated only by candlelight. There’s a gothic holiness to Cecilia’s new residence, complete with underground worshiping chambers where congregations wearing red cloth masks gather. Immaculate aims to frighten as the mood turns from divinity to damnation, drawing influences from Dario Argento, Roman Polanski, and even Neil Marshall’s The Descent. Through it all, the cinematography remains impressively skillful and artistically inclined, whether framing sheep herds from the air or we see Cecilia bathing with her sisters in the communal octagonal pool. Will Bates’ score even tricks us into thinking we’re watching an Argento production, with string-and-piano scoring that mimics Goblin’s style in addition to direct score lifts from past iconic composers.

That said, Immaculate is a collection of cruel and blasphemous ideas strung together like a rosary with cotton candy threads that have been subjected to rainfall. The pieces fall apart as the storytelling pushes onward, exploring the church’s insidious desires and how servants of a God become devils incarnate in his name. Mother Superior (Dora Romano) hides behind scripture and morose threats, as it becomes disturbingly clear how Cecilia is a prisoner of presumably righteous people. A blood-colored folder with Cecilia’s name becomes damning evidence, but the manipulation at hand is a messy story to follow that falls apart the further scenes develop. It’s clear what happened to Cecilia, but whens and hows are deemed unnecessary, introducing plot points that vanish since the film gets easily distracted by what it believes to be terrifying scares.

‘Immaculate’ Boasts Blasting Sound Design

Mohan’s approach to horror is rooted firmly in piercing sound design, blasting your eardrums to ensure you clench your heart for a second. Once or twice is okay — jump scares are typical genre territory — but that’s all Immaculate boasts. Sweeney is doing her absolute best as a sister betrayed by the cloth, giving a performance filled with screaming fits and anxiety about the loss of bodily autonomy, but the film’s approach to horror composition is shallow. It’s like junk food that provides a quick sugar high but carries no nutritional value with each spike in audio. Not to say that all throwback Italian giallos are impeccably told, but something like Argento’s Deep Red — a clear inspiration — sustains suspense as a mysterious genre puzzle unfolds. Immaculate is clearly inspired by Argento, Lucio Fulci, and Mario Bava films. However, it lacks a substantive understanding of the genre, yet prominently features some grossly diabolical violence done unto pleading convent captives dressed in pure white nightgowns.

Sweeney no doubt deserves the spotlight given all the effort it took to greenlight Immaculate, but that insistence on pushing her to center stage leads to forgetfulness about supporting characters like the protesting Sister Gwen (Benedetta Porcaroli). Immaculate is focused on punishment and predatory religious failings to a fault, losing the impact of what poses as a vengeful “Good For Her” picture. Mohan weaponizes trademark elements of Catholicism like confessional booths, baptisms, and blessed artifacts smuggled back from Jerusalem thanks to Saint Helena, Mother of Constantine — Immaculate no doubt looks the part. The problem becomes how, with each narrative jump, it feels like we’ve missed important context, left embracing a now that can’t reasonably sell its own spoken words.

Credit Sweeney for tackling such a bold project as a significant stakeholding producer. What works can be marvelous, especially considering how relentlessly violent revenge-based consequences can become (be warned, ye squeamish audiences). Unfortunately, the connective tissue between standout shocks and awes is as visible as the holy ghost — you must believe it’s there. Mohan’s direction is confident, the film’s visuals emblematic and elegant, yet lasting impressions aren’t quite in line with the film’s dreadful tone. Immaculate is a big, admittedly gorgeously shot swing that will be as divisive as religious interpretation itself — I’m just on the doubting side this time.

Immaculate 2024 Film Poster



Immaculate is a visual nunsploitation feast that’s not all that filling, hinging on a Sydney Sweeney performance that can’t shoulder the film’s weighty and wonky story.


  • We love to see a movie with clear influences and callbacks to genre classics.
  • Cinematography is gorgeous, especially in despicable bursts of horror-tinged imagery.
  • Sydney Sweeney is no doubt a talented actress.


  • Immaculate feels like a story with a beginning and end, but what happens in between is less important.
  • Characters and alarming events seem to vanish from importance.
  • The film’s sense of time and continuity can be super murky.

Immaculate had its World Premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film & TV Festival. It will be released in theaters in the U.S. on March 22. Click below for showtimes.