Release Date: February 14, 2019 (Russia)
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
Streaming Platform: Netflix
Barnabas: “Legend has it that [Saint] Agatha, like Agnes, was arrested as a Christian, tortured, and sent to a house of prostitution to be mistreated.” – via source.
This brutal martyrdom in 3rd century Sicily holds perhaps some correlation to Darren Lynn Bousman’s 2018/19 horror-thriller St. Agatha, which instead finds a pregnant woman taken in by creepy nuns and, coincidentally, tortured. That’s about where the perceived similarities end and the world of modern shock-horror begins. St. Agatha makes a valid but ultimately redundant attempt at exploring the inner-workings of a small Catholic convent that is hiding dark secrets (of course) and disappoints with a typical motive that you could have seen coming at the beginning of the film.
The script doesn’t exactly feel uninspired, as the idea of “evil” nuns hasn’t been explored to its fullest potential in horror, but doesn’t offer any particularly unique ideas or characters either. The main character, Mary (Sabrina Kern), is a fairly standard and insignificant 50’s mom-to-be who is broke and clearly makes poor decisions when it comes to the men in her life. Her sob story is expounded in a series of intermittent flashbacks that also provide details used against Mary later on by the actual stand-out of the film, Mother Superior. Carolyn Hennesy plays this antagonist with cunning force and does well in showcasing her ability to manipulate and shame the poor women she takes under her wing. Unfortunately, her motivation – as I alluded to earlier – is boring at best and eye-rolling at worst, and her ambiguous ending only made me sigh with frustration. Otherwise, she is an effective villain and the only character other than Mary/Agatha worth mentioning in any capacity.
If you’ve seen any sort of torture-porn flick or violent psychological thriller like Incident in a Ghostland or Martyrs, this movie will feel pretty similar to you; the story is meant to address redemption in the face of cruelty, moral ambiguity, and motherhood, and it wants to be visually gritty and arresting. The vibe in St. Agatha definitely fit and actually improved upon its comparative horror cousins, utilizing some slick cinematography, cool lighting, and haunting score to make it stand out. Those were, unfortunately, the best parts about this movie to me. It certainly did not give the impression that it aimed for style over substance, despite style being so prominent, and simply failed to find that balance. When stripping that and the admittedly shocking violence and gore away, it’s a fairly grounded and uninteresting tale of naivety and submission in the wake of personal shortcomings that we’ve seen approached so many times in horror.
Speaking of the violence and gore, there were several scenes that propelled this movie from snooze-fest thriller to potentially watchable, if you’re into that sort of thing, but it doesn’t do anything overtly wild. You’ve probably heard of the, er, dinner scene, and one sequence at the end; I’ve definitely seen better, and more gruesome, but they still got a reaction out of me. They also did well in serving as physical displays of the cruelty that Mother Superior was want to dish out. Still, they felt like band-aids for the lacking story and characterization. I’m also not quite sure how the supposedly “supernatural” scenes here fit in – manifestations of Mary’s guilt? We’re never really too sure.
At the end of the day, I found more fault in St. Agatha than I did redeeming qualities, much like its characters. Where it did stand out was the stellar production design: the cinematography, audio design, and set decoration were all great. The rest of the film was pretty predictable and didn’t offer much in the way of uniqueness or soul. It wasn’t awful, and actually quite decent by indie horror standards, but there are better things you could spend your time watching. My final score would be 6/10.
Samael: Let me start off by saying, Wow. What a ride. Allow me to explain.
For an independent movie, it sure is shot extremely well. The lighting in this movie and foreboding score contributed significantly to the ambiance of the film. Not to mention the smooth transitioning scenes between flashbacks and reality. The movie is also extremely subtle with time, always making you not sure exactly how much time has passed by.
The movie stars Mary, a mother found by a nun in a soup kitchen who says that women like her are always helped at her convent. We don’t see right away the struggles that Mary has gone through, but we see it in subtle flashbacks and exposition scattered throughout the film.
Upon arriving at the convent, the air is thick. There is a sense that something is not right there. We see that Mother Superior has a totalitarian grip on all the girls and also her inferiors throughout the movie. She mentions her methods to be unorthodox but that they work.
As the movie progresses, we see the extremes that Mother Superior is willing to go to to ensure that the girls are “well taken care of.” The pacing throughout sort of drags, but I believe it to pay off in the end when another of Superior’s motives have been revealed.
Mother Superior gives Mary (now through vigorous mental and physical torture, known to all and herself as ‘Agatha’), a certain choice, which I do not wish to elaborate on because I don’t want to spoil the film. Mother Superior also mentions that her workers are greedy, helping Mary formulate her plan, which comes to light in the “twist.” Overall, you become deeply empathetic toward Mary throughout the film. She is definitely not a dull character, speaking up rather than remaining quiet regardless of the repercussions, unlike the fellow girls in the film. You actually care about her and definitely root for her, although the many mistakes she makes will have you rolling your eyes and wondering why she didn’t take the more sneaky route.
Overall, it was a bit long, but not for nothing, and the lack of exposition until the climax really made you scratch your head as to what is going on. But the climax, reveal, and twist of the film came on rather suddenly, making me wonder if it was just an issue with run time or just the writer thinking they’ve put us through enough.
I give this film a 7/10. Give it a watch if you have a bit of free time. It is gory, claustrophobic, atmospheric when necessary and quite a ride.
Verdict: Not chopped
~ Split decisions should be approached with caution. Please read both of our reviews and make your own decision based on the information provided, but you may find it easier if you enjoy this type of horror.
If you do watch the film, tell us what you thought in the comments below.
To read our previous review, click here: Review Mortis – Midsommar