Carrying on from the excellent Climate of the Hunter, filmmaker Mickey Reece brings us a film full of mood and isolation. Agnes is a fantastic subverted look at a well-worn genre in a naturalistic and heavy manner. Reece is ambitious here, and he manages to pull it off with a great film that is a must-watch.
A disaffected priest (Ben Hall) and bright-eyed innocent neophyte Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) are sent to investigate rumours of demonic possession of Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) at a convent. As the duo and the resident nuns face tests of their faith when confronted with temptation.
Agnes takes multiple pivots throughout its lean runtime. For some people expecting a standard religious possession film, they will need to firmly grab onto something as Mickey Reece has decided to take you on an interesting and tellingly different journey, one that is most certainly worth it. This movie is the epitome of a tale of two halves, and without delving too much into it, there is something for everyone to enjoy here.
The opening half of Agnes goes as expected, and it works tremendously well when it gets going. The dark tone is omnipresent throughout, and Reece has that sense of dread dialled up to 11 as Agnes’ possession gets steadily worse. When we first find Agnes, she is off on a rather joyous tirade of obscenities towards her fellow nun. What works so well here is that you are never quite sure where the film is going to go due to Reece’s sheer wonderful stubbornness to subvert your expectations. Scenes go far differently than expected, and why you almost have to make a double-take, the appeal of it all guides you along with ease.
Though for all of the talk about that first half, perhaps the second starts you more as a viewer. It reigns itself in and takes an unexpected yet welcome path of coming to terms with grief; this is a breakaway that could lose a lot of the audience due to how drastic the change in tone is. But, if you stick with this shift, you will be rewarded with one hell of a performance from Molly C. Quinn, who firmly grabs the story and makes it her own.
Agnes begins to tackle the idea of what happens to a person who directed themselves to the faith, to try and overcome or forget what has happened previously in their lives, only to be brought headfirst into something almost as bad. Can one keep their faith in such a trying time? If not, then what happens next for that person. It is an utterly fascinating idea that has not been brought up in film before (that I can recall), and as the film slows down with long conversations, you find yourself leaning in, compelled.
Perhaps what surprises most is the dark humour that Reece laces within his story, as there is a lot here to suggest that it doesn’t require anything of the like. Agnes could quite easily play it as straight as an arrow. Still, by little, in those humourous moments, we get much needed bouts of relief, be it from the dialogue or simple edits. It works so smoothly that by the time the priests begin their confrontation with Agnes, that you have already fallen for it. Reece firmly marks himself as getting better with each film after the great Climate of the Hunter. His careful and importantly natural films are becoming hard to ignore, with Agnes being his best piece thus far.
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