'St. Agatha': Film Review

ST. AGATHA Still - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Uncorkā€™d Entertainment
For those who just can't get enough of scary nuns.

A pregnant young woman finds that a convent is not such a safe haven in the latest horror film from director Darren Lynn Bousman.

Judging by the depiction of nuns in so many horror movies, there are a lot of filmmakers out there who have had some pretty bad experiences at Catholic school. There's even a name for the sub-genre, "nunsploitation," of which the latest effort directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (veteran of several Saw films) is a prime example. St. Agatha is less overtly gory and supernatural-oriented than most efforts of its ilk, such as the recent The Nun, but it provides plenty of chilling, if slow-moving atmospherics and strong performances.

The film begins sensationally enough, with central character Mary (Sabrina Kern, making an impressive feature debut) screaming for help from within a locked coffin. The story then flashes back to showing how she got there. It seems that she became pregnant by her petty criminal/musician boyfriend (Justin Miles), not an ideal situation in which to be in rural Georgia circa 1957.   

In desperation, Mary accepts the advice of a nun at a soup kitchen and heads to the isolated Sisters of Divinity convent, where's she taken in by the officious Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy, as scary as any screen villain ever) and her charges. As nunsploitation aficionados will have long since guessed (and most viewers, really), the convent is less a safe haven than a hotbed of torture and cruelty of both the emotional and physical varieties.

There's nothing particularly new or surprising about the storyline, and the screenplay (co-written by a group consisting of Andy Demetrio, Shaun Fletcher, Sara Sometti Michaels and Clint Sears) spends too much running time on uncompelling flashbacks depicting the troubled circumstances of Mary's past that led to her predicament.

But the film works to a certain degree anyway, thanks to Bousman's assured helming, Molly Coffee's detailed production design and the excellent performances. One of the creepier sequences, in which a young woman is ordered to eat her vomit ("We don't waste food here," the Mother Superior points out) is all the more gag-inducing for the relative restraint with which it's handled. Another, involving a helpless girl being forced to cut out her own tongue, provides a brief dose of the bloodiness craved by so many of the horror-film crowd.

Kern makes her character's slowly mounting terror fully believable and relatable, as does Courtney Halverson as another victim of the nuns' predatory practices. And Hennesy invests what could have been the stock role of the Mother Superior with a fearsome intensity that proves galvanizing every moment she's onscreen.

St. Agatha could have done without its overly derivative musical score, featuring breathy, childlike vocals, that feels all too reminiscent of such films as Rosemary's Baby and Suspiria. And its plot twists can be seen from a mile away. But that doesn't prevent it from being sufficiently unsettling, even for those viewers who've never had their knuckles rapped by a nun.

Production companies: Dragon Blood Holdings, The Outside Writers
Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Sabrina Kern, Carolyn Hennesy, Courtney Halverson, Linday Seim, Hannah Fierman, Trin Miller, Seth Michaels
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Screenwriters: Andy Demetrio, Shaun Fletcher, Sara Sometti Michaels, Clint Sears
Producers: Sara Sometti Michaels, Seth Michaels, Tara Ansley, Srdjan Stakic
Executive producers: Shaun Fletcher, Andy Demetrio, Philip Bedrin, Kimberly Bedrin, Jeff Traier, Rick Le, Kevin Traier
Director of photography: Joseph White
Production designer: Molly Coffee
Editor: Brian Smith
Composer: Mark Sayfritz
Costume designer: Oskar de la Cruz

90 minutes