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AGNES ***

 

Directed by Mickey Reece.

Starring Molly C. Quinn, Sean Gunn, Jake Horowitz, Chris Browning, Ben Hall, Hayley McFarland.

Horror/Drama, USA, 93 mins, cert 18.

 

Released in the UK via Dazzler Media on Digital Platforms on Monday 4th April 2022 and on DVD and on DVD on Monday 18th April 2022.

 

 

The exorcism movie is very much like the shark movie – the best ones were made five decades ago and are unlikely to be bettered, mainly because you can’t shock people with the same thing again and, probably more importantly, the movies that followed the ground breaking originals concentrated on the wrong aspects that worked; in the case of JAWS it wasn’t the shark that made the movie – as the sequels proved – but the characters hunting the shark that audiences remember. Likewise, in THE EXORCIST it wasn’t the demon that was the most interesting thing about it (although some of those possession scenes probably helped) but the characters surrounding Regan and their internal conflicts and battles that gave the movie such depth.

 

All of which is something that AGNES appears to be very aware of, because despite being called AGNES the movie is not really about the character of the same name. The Agnes of the title is Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) who, during dinner one evening, suddenly becomes enraged and starts swearing, cursing and throwing things at the other nuns around the table. This prompts the Mother Superior to contact her superiors, and, in their wisdom, they send in the experienced but prickly exorcist Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and novice Father Ben (Jake Horowitz) – who is so green that he hasn’t taken his vows yet – to handle the situation, mainly because Father Donaghue has a bit of a shady past involving inappropriate behaviour with young people and if something happens to him during the exorcism then so be it.

 

So far, so EXORCIST (except for the inappropriate behaviour with young people part), and the first half of the movie sees Father Donaghue try to expel the demon from inside Agnes, even bringing in celebrity priest Father Black (Chris Browning) in a very knowing scene that could have come from an American remake of FATHER TED, if such a thing existed. And then the movie turns.

After Father Black tries to charm the demon out of Agnes the movie takes a massive swerve and we are properly introduced to Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn), a nun who has been present all along and, as we learn through flashback, is friends with Agnes. Flashback is how we will see Agnes from now on as Mary leaves the sisterhood and adapts to life outside of the convent walls, getting a job in a supermarket and learning to fend for herself. However, Mary’s boss Curly (Chris Sullivan) keeps trying it on with her and life away from the security of the convent doesn’t appear to be very safe, and with images of Agnes still haunting her Mary seeks out Agnes’s old boyfriend, a stand-up comedian named Paul (Sean Gunn), and things don’t go too well there either.

 

AGNES is a movie that should be celebrated for setting the audience up for one thing and then delivering another, hinting at an EXORCIST-style shocker involving naughty nuns and dirty priests who all seem to be aware of the tropes of an exorcism movie, and then not resting on its laurels before pulling on your emotional heartstrings with a deep, almost spiritual character piece. Where it falters is not with the narrative shift that takes place but the tonal one; Father Donaghue is great character who seems to know that he could potentially get covered in pea soup or witness a levitating bed at any moment thanks to some wry dialogue and Ben Hall all but winking at the camera, and in another movie it would have been fantastic to see him and Father Black on the fictional talk show that pops up but in this one it just seems a bit incongruous once you get to the end of the movie and you look back at what you have just seen.

 

The final act – indeed, the final scene – of AGNES is a beautifully written dialogue between two characters that ponders the existence and the point of religion in the modern world. The journey that Mary has taken is the instigator for the conversation - the convent walls that she felt so restricted by during the first half of the movie suddenly becoming the place where she felt she had a purpose and she wasn’t taken advantage of – and when you look back at the movie as a whole the plot points all makes sense, that the world is not a safe place and people do need something for their own inner peace, but the contrasting tones of the two halves of the movie just don’t quite connect the narrative together. Nevertheless, for a possession movie that approaches things from a slightly different angle, AGNES is certainly worth a look as it does give you something to ponder after you have watched the final scene. The journey getting there, however, may have its moments of fun but makes the movie a little less coherent because of it.

 

Chris Ward.

 

 

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