AGNES (2021)

Greetings again from the darkness. William Friedkin’s 1973 movie THE EXORCIST, adapted from William Peter Blatty’s novel, shook the movie world at the time. It even garnered 10 Oscar nominations, winning two (Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay). Over the nearly 50 years since, there have been five sequels in the franchise, and it has inspired countless genre movies, including parodies and knock-offs. Writer-Director Mickey Reece and co-writer and frequent collaborator John Selvidge deliver a set-up that leads us to believe we are in for yet another faith-based horror film focusing on demonic possession. Instead, what follows is more like two distinct stories.

Hayley McFarland (THE CONJURING, 2013) plays the titular Sister Agnes, and her outburst during a group meal with her fellow nuns startles us, and leads the Mother Superior (Mary Buss) to request assistance from the Catholic Church to address what appears to be demonic possession of Agnes. Chosen for the mission are a contrasting oddball pair of priests. The young, full of faith, not yet ordained Benjamin (Jake Horowitz, THE VAST OF NIGHT), and the elder, cynical, soon-to-be-banished Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) are sent to administer the exorcism … a process that Father Donaghue views as a convenient “out” for the one suffering.

The priests arrive at the convent, making for an interesting and uncomfortable dynamic. The exorcism takes a nasty turn that stuns Benjamin and the nuns, and leaves Donaghue humiliated and damaged. Desperate for the right step, Father Black (Chris Browning), a celebrity priest, is called in, along with his strange and out-of-place chain-smoking travel partner. This attempt at dispensing the demon goes no better than the first, but it’s here where some will find a touch of dark humor and really get a sense of filmmaker Reece’s unconventional style of storytelling. Reece then shifts our attention and the film’s focus to Mary (Molly C Quinn, “Castle”), Agnes’s best friend in the convent. After the incidents with Agnes, Mary’s faith is shaken. She turns in her habit and heads out into the real world. The entire perspective shifts as we follow Mary’s attempt to find her place … searching for something to believe in while struggling to pay the rent, and fending off unwelcome advances and oddball co-workers.  

Mary’s naivety is not an asset to her in this new life, and she does connect with stand-up comedian Paul (Sean Gunn), who was once in a relationship with Agnes. The character of Paul injects yet another dimension here, but we never lose sight of what Mary is going through. The topics of power and faith stand out most as we work through the film. Those expecting a traditional horror movie may be disappointed after the first act, while those open to some dark humor may be rewarded.

In theaters and VOD beginning December 10, 2021


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