Review: In quirky horror film Agnes, the devil is in the details

Rumors of demonic possession in a religious convent prompt the church to investigate the strange happenings among its nuns. A disgruntled priest and his neophyte face temptation, bloodshed and a crisis of faith.Stephan Sutor / Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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  • Agnes
  • Directed by Mickey reece
  • Written by Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
  • Featuring Molly Quinn, Ben Hall, Hayley McFarland, Jake Horowitz
  • Classification PG; 93 minutes
  • Opening in theaters December 10 (also available on VOD platforms)

From cult Oklahoma director Mickey Reece, the horror film Agnes is funny – both funny ha-ha (in a devious way) and funny-peculiar all around. It takes place in a convent in the far corner of a diocese, where the titular nun is apparently possessed by a malicious spirit. The devil, it seems, for all his supposed powers, is subject to extravagant profanity and telekinetic salon tricks.

Although he does not believe in “medieval woo-woo”, the jaded and semi-disgraced Father Donaghue (played with charisma by Ben Hall) is called upon to perform an exorcism. He told his serious assistant to “stick to the script” – referring to the Bible.

At first, the shift Agnes seems on the verge of parody – or, God forbid, a musical. When the priest, his pious mentee, and the Mother Superior walk into the bedroom to heal the “grieving sister,” they do so in slow motion, with all the over-the-top bluster of a hip hop video.

But for all of his disrespect for the genre (and religion), director Reece is serious about his character study, even if Agnes herself is the least focused. The film is more interested in the lovely sister Mary (Molly Quinn) and her crisis of faith. And while there are enough bites to satisfy gore aficionados, the primary reason for this occult-based eccentric is its consideration of temptation, spiritual hunger, human connection, and the existential pursuit of joy.

Despite all his disrespect for genre (and religion), director Mickey Reece takes his character study seriously.Stephan Sutor / Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Agnes is the final piece in a loose trilogy that includes Hunter’s climate and Strike, dear mistress, and Heal his heart. Reece seems to have grown accustomed to female-centric psychological melodramas – this one (featuring nuns this time around) constantly surprises and entertains throughout.

In the interest of consistency across all critical reviewers, The Globe has removed its star rating system in film and theater to align with the coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, Works of Excellence will be noted with a Critics’ Choice designation throughout the cover. (TV reviews, usually based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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