Blemished man of the cloth, Father Donaghue, and a neophyte are summoned to perform the holy rite of exorcism on a possibly possessed nun, Sister Agnes. Disadvantaged and forced by his own scandal, Father Donaghue is ordered by the local Bishop to oversee the matter before they ship him overseas to avoid further disgrace upon the Church, but the skeptical priest, who has performed many exorcisms in the past, has never once believed he was casting out a demon but, rather, relieving a guilty, tormented soul seeking divine forgiveness. When the priests confront Sister Agnes, the situation is violent, wily, and unlike any possession Father Donaghue has ever seen before. The incident casts doubt over Sister Agnes’s friend and fellow nun, Sister Mary, who leaves the convent to try and live on her own and find God in the real world her own way, but a little bit of Sister Agnes has seemingly rubbed off onto her.
You gotta have faith, sang once by pop-rocker and songwriter George Michael (and Fred Durst, if want to go that route) and though Mickey Reece’s “Agnes” doesn’t necessarily croon a rebuttal, the Oklahoma City born filmmaker surely splits hairs with a formidable blockade that advocates the crisis of faith cinematic model with layered horror. The “Climate of the Hunter” writer-director’s latest quasi-horror-comedy and full-throttle religious drama questions the validities of finding God on a personal level with a divergently cut screenplay co-written with frequent script partner John Selvidge, whose current post-production penned time-warping horror entitled “Wait!” coming next year. “Agnes” is filmed in the heartland of America inside Reece’s home state of central Oklahoma and is a reteaming of Mickey Reece and producer Jacob Snovel of Perm Machine with Greg Gilreath and Adam Hendricks’ Divide/Conquer (“Black Christmas” 2019 remake, “Freaky”) as the production companies and is first feature presentation for Molly C. Quinn, Matthew M. Welty, and Elan Gale’s QWGmire Productions.
One-third of the head of QWGmire is also the “Agnes” leading lady as Molly C. Quinn, who doesn’t play the titular character, plays Mary, a nun and friend of the possessed plagued Agnes (Hayley McFarland, “The Conjuring”) with a tragic background that ambiguously parallels a similar path to the mother of Jesus, also named Mary for all you non-Christians out there. Mary is tender, quiet, and self-effacing but determined to pave her own way without the means of charity, especially those of the unsavory-favor nature, and consulting God for answers. Quinn is perfect to shoulder Mary’s innocent disposition and does carry her naïve meekness throughout up until Mary’s gradual decline toward her faith that turns the sweet and innocent young woman into a pragmatic doubter, spurred by Agnes’ sudden otherworldly turn from devout to impiety that becomes more than what meets the eye. However, in kicking off Reece’s film, one would have thought the exorcism of Agnes would emphasize more heavily on Father Donaghu (Ben Hall, “Minari”) and soon-to-be priest Benjamin (Jake Hororwitz, “Castle Freak” remake), but despite the involved build up of Father Donahu’s sordid past that conflicts with the Church and his struggles with the exorcism, Reece and Selvidge ultimately do, in what feels like, a pulling of the plug on a storyline that followings in the footsteps of “The Exorcist.” That is, in my opinion, the downfall of “Agnes’” story in elimination of really interesting character arcs right in their girthy throes, leaving audiences hanging on Father Donaghu, grocer owner/low-end gangster Curly (Chris Sullivan, “This is Us” and “I Trapped the Devil”), ostentatiously swaggering Father Black (Chris Browning, “Let Me In”) and even the titular character Agnes fails to flesh out fully. Rachel True (“The Craft”), Zandy Hartig, Bruce Davis, Chris Freihofer, Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Suicide Squad’s” Sean Gunn as a standup comedian and Mary’s love interest.
“Agnes” loosely follows a couple of Catholic patroness saints in Agnes and Mary derided in a contrary sense. Agnes, the virgin martyr in Catholic veneration, opposes the Church in the film with flashbacks of her embracing an indulgent life along with her sexual insults that’s uncouth for the patroness saint of pure little girls. Mary’s a little more recognizable with a previous, ambiguous account of her child’s death (aka Jesus Christ?). Plus, there’s the religious imagery, amongst others in the film, of Mary with bleeding eyes as an analogous to the weeping statues. Reece blatantly shows most men and women of the cloth to be unorthodox Orthodox Catholics from Father Donaghu’s troubling allegations to the mocking head priests. Mother Superior throws around her superiority amongst the convent nuns and even the Bishop, who doesn’t ever say a word in his brief scene, appears smug and high and mighty with his stature, letting his assistant communicate (and excommunicate) all the ugly business. Only a non-priest, training to be ordained, in Benjamin is the only innocent, infallible Christian who captures the humble essence of God and the only one who can capable in rejuvenating Mary’s faith. “Agnes” is all about doubting faith whether be by demonic possession, the loss of a child, all forms of corruption, and more, but Mary keeps striving, struggling, and searching for that spiritual lifeline amongst seedy and unscrupulous faithless charlatans slowly poisoning her to be the same. However, the “Agnes” story divides too sharply leaving the acute crisis of faith to be nearly lost in translation and is practically a wandering spectrum of identity that’s roughly craft glued together by Reece.
Some may see the film’s poster and excitedly expect Nunsploitation but the reality of “Agnes” digs at the hypocrisy of people and the endless search for faith. What it’s not is the sexual exploitation or sadomasochism of chaste nuns. Give Mickey Reece’s horror-comedy drama “Agnes” a faithful shot come it’s December 10th theatrical release from Magnet Releasing, a subsidiary of Magnolia Pictures. “Agnes” has a runtime of 93 minutes and presented in a 2.55:1 aspect ratio. Typical of any Mickey Reece film, his melodramatic horror-comedy fits into his oeuvre of talking head cinema so leave expectations of brooding and atmospheric milieus at the door for more realistic, down-to-Earth scenes, which is a bit surprising since the cinematographer behind “Hellraiser: Judgement” and “Children of the Corn: Runaway,” Samuel Calvin, has an eye for unhallowed aesthetics. Calvin does produce some perfectly poised shots with the flock of nuns and the ever slightly deviant angle to sharpen a scene. No bonus features were included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. “Agnes” floats on a haphazard timeline of dark, melodrama comedy for a desperate need of faith against the immense heartache, the crudely selfish, and the absence of morality all of which incessantly imposes upon the good to assimilate.