Review: Gripping Visuals and Riveting Performances Drive ST. AGATHA
With St. Agatha, director Darren Lynn Bousman serves up a great-looking horror film with the type of shocks one might expect from the person who helmed the second through fourth offerings in the Saw franchise, along with some other well-known fright fare. The cast members are certainly game, as well, in this 1950s-Georgia–set story of a young pregnant woman trapped in a terrifying convent.
Mary (Sabrina Kern) pulls con jobs with her grifter boyfriend Jimmy (Justin Miles), who also moonlights as a jazz musician. When she becomes pregnant by Jimmy, her abusive father turns his back on her. Near homeless and penniless, she opts to join a convent that she learns about at a soup kitchen rather than joining Jimmy’s band on tour.
The isolated convent is run by a Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennessy) who rules by fear and corporal punishment. Her staff underlings follow her every command without question, and the other pregnant girls being sheltered there are too frightened of her to do anything more than take the abuse that she hands out.
One problem I had is that, early on, Mary is told that the girls in the convent are under strict vows of silence. Although this is brought up more than once, it is never adhered to — although it could be argued that, ultimately, one character receives a squirm-inducing punishment because of her not following the rule.
Also, the set-up and characters above have been seen many times before in horror cinema, and St. Agatha simply doesn’t bring much fresh material to the table. Henessy does a fine, scenery-chewing job as Mother Superior, but unsympathetic nuns with a flair for the sadistic need a bit more meat to their characters than what this film provides. Also, even viewers fairly new to the nun-horror subgenre can telegraph what the third act might entail.
Plenty of elements work for St. Agatha, though. First off, Bousman knows his way around a fright flick, and treats viewers to several grueling, gruesome set pieces worth the price of admission. He and cinematographer Joseph White present a beautifully shot effort, with rich colors that contrast marvelously with the dour goings-on in the convent.
As mentioned earlier, the cast does a fine job, with Kern giving a splendid performance as a woman who goes from despairing to determined, from victim to aggressor. Hennessy is a seasoned actor who plays vicious deliciously. The supporting players — including genre favorites Courtney Halverson (Unfriended), Hannah Fierman (Siren), and Lindsay Seim (Insidious: Chapter 2) — all give wonderful performances that will further impress viewers and filmmakers alike.
St. Agatha gives off initial hints of a supernatural horror, but that eventually gives way to torture terror and conspiracy plotting. The film will probably appeal most strongly to viewers who enjoy watching fiendish religious hypocrites head toward their inevitable comeuppance, those with a predilection for barbarous scenes (done here with admirable practical effects), and nunsploitation completists.
St. Agatha, distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment, will be released in theatres and through On Demand/ Digital on February 8.