Combustible Celluloid
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With: Molly C. Quinn, Hayley McFarland, Sean Gunn, Rachel True, Jake Horowitz, Chris Browning, Ben Hall, Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, Chris Sullivan, Zandy Hartig, Ben Hall, Bruce Davis
Written by: Mickey Reece, John Selvidge
Directed by: Mickey Reece
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 93
Date: 12/10/2021

Agnes (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Nun Shall Escape

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite elements of a typical exorcism movie, this is not a horror tale so much as it is a strange comedy with jokes in the most unusual spots, and an even meditation on faith and what forms it takes.

In a strict convent, a young nun, Agnes (Hayley McFarland), is seemingly possessed with a demon. Father Donaghue (Ben Hall), who is facing disgrace in the church, is sent to perform an exorcism, along with young Benjamin (Jake Horowitz), who hasn't yet taken his vows. Things don't go quite as expected, and this leads Anges's friend Mary (Molly C. Quinn), to leave the convent and try to make it in the real world.

She struggles with a terrible job, with a sleazy boss (Chris Sullivan), and rising rent, before she meets a comedian (Sean Gunn), whom Agnes claimed was her true love. But Mary continues to grapple with issues of faith and belief, even without her habit.

Director and co-writer Mickey Reece takes deliberate, sharp left turns with Agnes, starting with its opening sequence. The credits roll over a delightful-looking birthday cake. The stern, bespectacled Mother Superior gives a cautious but heartfelt birthday speech before being pelted in the face with a hunk of cake, thrown by the possessed Agnes, just before she unleashes a torrent of foul words. In other scenes, priests and nuns walk down a hall, in slow-motion, accompanied by a badass beat, to the exorcism. And the supposedly pious nuns comment on how handsome the males are, and giggle and blush at compliments.

The meat of the film — and this is not an empty metaphor, as Benjamin describes life as a sandwich and the meat as God — is Mary's attempts to build a life outside the convent walls, reconciling her life without her lost child. Her unhurried, meticulous scenes give her an array of inputs, various ways in which she might find meaning in her life, but everything falls short. In the role, Quinn gives a quiet, hurting performance, effortlessly touching.

It may not be apparent how, or if, everything in Agnes comes together, exactly, but it's still a thoughtful movie that manages to get into spiritual themes without either preaching or mocking.

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