AGNES movie poster | ©2021 Magnet Releasing

AGNES movie poster | ©2021 Magnet Releasing

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Molly C. Quinn, Jake Horowitz, Rachel True, Hayley McFarland, Zandy Hardig, Chris Browning, Ben Hall, Mary Buss, Chris Sullivan, Sean Gunn
Writers: John Selvidge and Mickey Reece
Director: Mickey Reece
Distributor: Magnet Releasing
Release Date: December 10, 2021

 AGNES starts out like a typical exorcism film, but it doesn’t stay that way for long.

We begin at a cloistered Carmelite convent in upstate New York. It’s the present, but it might as well be the 1950s, or further back, as far as the strict Mother Superior (Mary Buss) is concerned.

Rule-bound and stern though Mother Superior is, she permits a birthday-like celebration for the anniversary of young Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) joining the order. As the nuns gather around the table for cake, Agnes has a ferocious outburst, complete with objects floating off the table.

The Church obligingly sends an exorcist to deal with the situation. The priest assigned to the task is Father Donaghue (Ben Hall, in a performance reminiscent of Bryan Cranston at his most avuncular).

Father Donaghue is accompanied by his protégé, diligent young priest-in-training Benjamin (Jake Horowitz). Benjamin is nonplused to learn that his mentor doesn’t believe in demons. The aspiring cleric is also horrified that Father Donaghue is suspected of the kind of crimes that gets priests transferred to far-flung parishes (when they should actually be arrested).

The situation at the convent is tense, made more so by the Mother Superior’s concerns about having men on the premises. When Agnes proves to be in much worse shape than Father Donaghue anticipates, he summons help. And then AGNES does something that usually only gets a climactic scene or two – it explores what happens after the exorcism.

In the second half of the film, we’re primarily with Mary (Molly C. Quinn), another young nun who was Agnes’s only real friend in the convent. Following everything that has occurred, and what she knows of what has happened to various people, Mary tries to find her own sense of purpose, priorities, and even reality.

AGNES doesn’t fully switch genres at the midway point, but the emphasis shifts. It goes from being a horror movie with a lot of character exploration, to a character drama with horror notes.

Virtually everyone in the story has a secret, and some measure of tragedy in their lives that has set them on their current paths. Director Mickey Reece and his co-writer John Selvidge handle even questionable characters with some amount of sympathy, though they are most firmly on Mary’s side.

Quinn gives a very thoughtful and nuanced performance. Her Mary is susceptible to whim and influence, but with a strong sense of self underneath it all. We believe she knows the value of what she has lost, and is guided by it.

Horowitz likewise provides a sense of commitment as Benjamin, and McFarland does a fine job of switching on a dime between the multiple aspects of Agnes.

AGNES will be a bit too ambiguous for some, not only in its themes, but in weird little loose ends. We’re interested enough in Benjamin to want to know more about what he makes of what happened. And why does a supermarket employee offer to take over a register when she does? Is she stealing from the till?

However, the filmmakers create an immersive atmosphere, and keep us intrigued throughout. Best of all, they give us an exorcism story that we truly have not seen before.

Related: Exclusive Interview with actress and producer Molly C. Quinn on AGNES

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