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Saturday, February 16, 2019

Review: St. Agatha

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Screenplay: Shaun Fletcher, Sara Sometti Michaels, and Clint Seras
Year: 2019

Darren Lynn Bousman has had an interesting career in horror cinema. He has shown his talent behind the cameras in three installments of the “Saw” franchise, as well as in the horror musicals “Repo The Genetic Opera” and “The Devil’s Carnival”. He has been able to go from the macabre in “Saw II, III y IV”, to the good use of music and saturated visuals in “Repo The Genetic Opera” or infernal and satanic elements in “The Devil’s Carnival”. With this mixture of virtues, it is always difficult to predict what his next project will be about, and this is just what happened with “St. Agatha”. Knowing little about this movie I decided to give it a go with enthusiasm of knowing what Bousman had crafted this time.

“St. Agatha” is a nunsploitation movie based in the year 1950, where a young pregnant woman seeks refuge in a convent. What seems like the ideal place to live and give birth to her child soon starts to feel like a sinister place. Strict rules are imposed on its inhabitants and any extreme is reached so that they are met. This young woman starts to discover the secrets and the true purpose of this place and must find a way to escape to protect her and her son’s well-being.

Since early in the movie, you can appreciate that the atmosphere will stand out. A lot of effort is put into taking good care of the visuals, sounds, and music, while the development of the plot is slow. This combination manages to keep the viewer uncomfortable, expecting that something bad happens, which is backed up with the behavior of the people in the convent and this constant suspicion of something being wrong in this place. The music is highly interesting and particular, and while in some cases it is a little repetitive, it ends up giving the movie its own personality, a skill that Bousman has developed with his experience in rock opera movies.

In the development of the plot, constant retrospections are used to show the story of Mary before arriving at the convent. Personally, I am not a fan of this style, as if it is not used correctly it ends up cutting the flux of the story and the built-up tension. In “St. Agatha” this technique artfully used and does not have the problem aforementioned. What helps the most to maintain the tension is that the atmosphere is so well crafted that once the scene changes back to Mary’s actual situation, the tension is gained back instantly. The cast is very correct and helps that sense if uncomfortness, where each character has a specific role to enhance the atrocities lived in the convent. The most important characters are those of Mary, interpreted by Sabrina Kern, who is the rebellious one that uncovers the horrors that take place in the convent and who is the protagonist and Mother Superior, interpreted by Carolyn Hennesey (“Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines”) who is the one in charge to impart punishment when the rules are not obeyed, and the antagonist.

Although the promotion, some scenes, and some sound effects suggest something supernatural will happen, it does not. On the contrary, it works as a psychological thriller and the terror of “St. Agatha” resides in the control that the convent enforces with the authority and rules of the nuns in charge over the refugee women that must comply as they have nowhere else to go. This gives way to the nun to go from strict to abusive, putting in doubt if they really care for the women there and that the refugees have to be submissive because of fear of what can happen to them if they disobey, combined with the impotence of not being able to get out of there. This abuse of authority is the vector for some scenes that are even difficult to watch, showing that way the experience Bousman has with a more macabre style of a film.

One of the week points of “St. Agatha” is that the ambiance and images make the viewer think that the plot will be based on something supernatural and then it is not so. I support the decision of not going down the road of the supernatural but leading the viewer to think it will go that way, more than creating confusion to make the plot be unpredictable, what it creates is a sense of not being able to correctly exploit the idea.

“St. Agatha”, although far from being his best movie, showcases the versatility of a director that has always looked to innovate throughout his career. With this film, he explores the nunsploitation genre combined with the psychological thriller, enhancing his list of skills and experience in movies and puts his signature in a product that is entertaining and full of suspense. It leaves the sensation that in this opportunity he was more conservative and worked more in the suspense and atmosphere, even when some scenes in which more than one will cover their eyes are the antithesis of this argument.

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