Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Dec 10, 2021 8:08 am 
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A B-Movie horror tale of a possessed nun that winds up being a treatise on the spiritual life

Mickey Reese, based in Oklahoma City, is a "kitchen-sinker," Walter Chawsays, who just before this made an excellent revisionist vampire movie, Climate of the Hunter. He has an unusually good cast and production values in this latest film, which starts out as the exorcism of a nun (unsuccessfully, by two teams), that ends up in the air, then abruptly switches to the life of the possessed nun's young friend Mary (Molly C. Quinn), who leaves the convent with her former friend Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) still raging and struggles to make it on her own working at two lousy jobs surrounded by creeps. Agnes turns out to have been a colorful but relatively minor character as the focus shifts to Mary's more real-life, three dimensional experience.

"The temptation will be to declare that Agnes is two films when really it's just one extraordinarily clever, unimpeachably ethical treatise on sexual repression, spiritual isolation, and the profound loneliness that derives from it. It's so good." So wrote Walter Chaw,Film Freak Central from Montreal, at the Fantasia Festival. Walter Chaw , who is based in Denver, is rough sometimes, but he has a lot of heart, and I welcome this opportunity to quote him as a start of my favorable report on this oddball and fascinating little film.

Katie Rife confirms the good news: "If... you're tired of seeing the same old beats hit again and again in these kind of movies," she writes on AV Club, "Agnes provides idiosyncratic salvation." But while that provides a snappy, if slightly ungrammatical payoff, the NYCk-based online critic JB Spins (Joe Bendel) looks at the film and its oddball structure a bit more critically. "Initially," he says, "the second half feels like a punishingly long and drawn-out epilogue." Indeed; or simply another movie spiced onto the horror movie. But Bendel suggests we're rewarded for waiting because "Reece eventually pays if off with a quiet but really well-written explanation of faith from the newly ordained Father Benjamin." Benjamin (Jake Horowitz, who was in the great Vast of Night) first enters the film as the young Deacon awaiting ordination who accompanies the disgraced Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) for the first, totally unsuccessful attempt at exorcism. Bendel, who wishes this movie didn't feel obligated to "to re-litigate recent Church scandals" (but aren't they essential, though?) feels there's "a lot to slog through" though he allows that "the light-bulb moment redeems it," and approvingly grants that we can all agree the exorcism stuff is "pretty creepy."

True, Father Benjamin's long answer to Mary's question about where we can find the spiritual in this world is Agnes' moving payoff, but what's been happening up to that in Part 2 isn't just a slog, or this wouldn't be the eye-opening and curiously original little movie that it is.

I haven't seen any of Mickey Reese's many previous efforts but what I see here is a prolific indie-ish B Picture director so freewheeling, fluent, and confident about breaking some of the usual rules that he can come up with a movie a festival will accept as an art film and convince a distributer of the quality of Magnolia Pictures to to take it on. I liked the way almost-horrible elements in Part 2 are made resonant by the full-on genre-horror of the first part, like Mary's predatory, oily boss Curly (Chris Sullivan); even the two sisters from the now disbanded nunnery, with Agnes and the Mother Superior passed, Father Donague disappeared and the sisters disbursed, who approach Mary to join their new sisterhood nearby. They will come to get you. I like the way the teacher-turned-standup-comic Paul Satchmo (Sean Gunn) is woven through the film's two parts, and how painfully his evening with Mary ends. The writing is baggy perhaps, but its messiness is its unique charm, and its young priest's message to the troubled Mary at the end is indeed a ray of light in our darkness. A genre-teaser gem.

Agnes, 93 mins., debuted at Tribeca Jun. 2021, showing also at Fantastic Fest, Stiges, and Philadelphia. It opens in the US (Magnolia) Dec. 10, 2021.

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