Review: ‘Agnes’ (breaking the habit)

“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them… c’mon guys, it’s a metaphor, so stop looking at me like that.”

At a remote convent embracing old traditions, a nun named Agnes (Hayley McFarland) abruptly becomes belligerent and devilish, prompting a call to a higher authority. Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) is recruited by friend and priest-in-training Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) to assess the potential demonic possession but suspects he’s being set up to fail. Meanwhile, a witnessing nun named Mary (Molly C. Quinn) is tempted by helpless Agnes — who has always been a friend to her in the past — to leave the convent, prompting a crisis of faith Mary as well.

The advertising for Agnes suggests a demon has arrived at an orthodox convent to prey upon a vulnerable sister, but master and apprentice exorcists arrive to save the day — praise the Lord and pass the sacrament! Of course, nothing goes as planned when foes are underestimated, saviors are flawed, and there’s always a Catholic conspiracy of some kind. These kinds of films can be disposable or insightful, but unless it’s an outright parody like Repossessed, there’s usually something deeper going on, like Stigmata. Fans of these films seek diamonds in the rough, but what about a film that throws plot in the trash and goes looking for faith in all the wrong places?

Agnes begins with practical deviltry 101 — foul language, quaking tables, and teacups dangling from hidden strings — before inflicting viewers with a communion-wine stained title card… or something. Each scene that follows seems hellbent on being predictably unpredictable: boring, silly, blasphemous, bloody… as long as it seems random or wrong. After forty-five minutes of this, one character (read: not Agnes) goes off to find herself outside of the church. Surprise! Half the movie is over, the title is pointless, and the plot never mattered… unless your idea of a revelation is “young women will always be exploited unless they hide out in a convent.” No, wait; it gets worse.

It’s difficult to say if director and co-writer Mickey Reece despises Catholicism or religion in general, but no one’s more devout than a born-again atheist. The nuns in the first half are either uncharacteristically lustful or spewing Catholic condemnation, both laced with middle-school innuendo. While the entire convent might have been under some demonic spell — cue savior priests getting more than they signed on for — it’s all red herrings and useless banter. The second half focuses on Quinn’s Mary scraping by while being exploited and/or propositioned by pretty much everyone, complicated by brief moments of inexplicable divine light or gravel-voiced demonic vocals. Cue mandatory life lesson: “Inside of you there are two angels, one forgiving and the other fallen. Sure, you should nurture the one with the halo, but seriously, feed the horned one a snack from time to time.”

Too tame to be considered “nunsploitation” yet too silly to be thought of as subvert, Agnes wastes its cast likes it wastes our time. Don’t be fooled by the poster or trailers luring you in; it’s a rare thing when dropping cash into a rogue collection plate is money better spent than on a “Jesus hoagie” like this (hey, it’s their reference — not even kidding).

Agnes isn’t rated, but if it was, it’d be rated S for “show me on the lectern where religion hurt you.”

Zero skull recommendation out of four

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