When a horror film subverts your expectations, that’s almost always a recipe for success. One would be easily forgiven for assuming that St. Agatha would traffic in the same sort of territory as last year’s awful The Nun. Instead, while still thoroughly being a fright flick, this effort goes in a whole other direction. It gets pretty ridiculous towards the end, but for large swarths of the picture, it focuses on something grittier, more intense, and much more based in reality. By no stretch is this one of the genre’s best efforts, but it does way more right than it does wrong.
The movie is a horror experience, tinged with religious extremism, or so it seems. Taking place in a small Georgia town during the 1950’s, we follow a pregnant con woman on the run named Mary (Sabrina Kern). Seeking refuge, she ends up in a convent that’s removed from society and offers a perfect hiding place. Initially, that’s just what it is, as Mary bides her time. Then, things begin to get bleak, suggesting that all is not as it seems within these walls. Mistreated and renamed Agatha, she needs to summon the strength to survive and have her baby, or else all will be lost, literally. What follows is a fight for survival, as more and more is revealed about the place she’s now trapped in. Darren Lynn Bousman directs a script penned by the team of Andy Demetrio, Shaun Fletcher, Sara Sometti Michaels, and Clint Sears. The supporting cast includes Hannah Fierman, Courtney Halverson, Carolyn Hennesy, Seth Michaels, Justin Miles, Trin Miller, Linday Seim, and Jayson Warner Smith, among others. Joseph White provides the cinematography, while the score is composed by Mark Sayfritz.
Tone is what sets this film apart. St. Agatha never goes for the buckets of blood. For most of the running time, it’s efficiently a tale of desperation, gaslighting, and trying to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. Bousman’s direction emphasizes the stress of being stuck in the convent, not the violence that takes place within. It’s a unique decision that may limit its financial viability but is an effective creative choice. Without question, this is a horror flick, but there’s more than a fair share of drama thrown in. You actually are compelled by the plot, not just waiting for death and destruction.
Darren Lynn Bousman has been a reliable name in horror for years now. Responsible for a few of the most successful entries into the SAW franchise (he made SAW II, SAW III, and SAW IV), as well as a remake of Mother’s Day and his cult classic horror musical Repo! The Genetic Opera. Bousman is the sort of filmmaker who clearly is having a good time with his job. It largely rubs off on you too. While he may be depicting bloody carnage on screen, there’s an odd sense of joy and style that you can’t help but appreciate and respect.
If you like horror and/or have been a fan of Bousman’s prior work, St. Agatha has a decent amount to offer. Don’t go in expecting gore front and back, but instead a chilling and unsettling look at how dark the night can get before the dawn. A sense of potential hope permeates the back end of the picture, which is rare for the genre. If any of that sounds intriguing to you, this is something to take a look at. Give it a shot and you just may find that it’s not what you were expecting, in a good way too…
Be sure to check out St. Agatha, in theaters this weekend!