Immaculate: Rosemary’s Baby reimagined as a giallo in a convent

Sydney Sweeney stars as a devout nun who ‘miraculously’ falls pregnant in a nasty nunsploitation with a sharp political message.

Sydney Sweeney as Sister Cecilia in Immaculate (2024)

A nun (Simona Tabasco) steals keys from the bedside drawer of her sleeping Mother Superior (Dora Romano) at night, and tries to escape through the convent’s locked front gate, only to be violently apprehended by four other nuns and buried alive in a coffin.

This prologue quickly establishes that Michael Mohan’s Immaculate will be less The Nun’s Story (1959) than nasty nunsploitation, and so brings tension to the subsequent arrival of American novitiate Sister Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney), whose cultural and linguistic alienation within this remote Italian convent make her a perfect figure of identification for the viewer in a hermetic, literally cloistered world. 

It is a strange place with off-limits catacombs, a holy relic encased in the chapel vault, and locked rooms where secrets are buried. Taking her vows the night she arrives, Cecilia starts to discover her vocation looking after terminally ill nuns who have come there to die. But here there is also birth, as Cecilia suddenly falls pregnant – a ‘miracle’ according to Father Sal Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), the Cardinal (Giorgio Colangeli) and the Mother Superior – and so this young woman finds herself all at once adored and iconised, objectified and literally branded.

Andrew Lobel’s screenplay reimagines Rosemary’s Baby (1968) as a giallo in a convent: black gloves are worn, a theme from Bruno Nicolai’s score for Emilio Miraglia’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) is repurposed, acts of torture and murder mount, and a confused Cecilia starts to wonder just what she is carrying inside her. 

For all its looking back to cinema past, Immaculate explores a topic that could not be more incendiary in present-day America, in the wake of the 2022 overturning of Roe vs Wade by a newly conservative-majority Supreme Court. Here the church is a prison-house that brooks no criticism, runs under a system of omertà, and abuses both its handmaids of Christ and science to deeply unethical ends. The pervading patriarchy and religious orthodoxy repeatedly trample on questions of female bodily autonomy, until devout Catholic Cecilia is driven to abandon her vow of obedience and to commit acts very much in conflict with her own faith.

In the final sequence, DP Elisha Christian’s camera stays fixed on Cecilia’s horrified face rather on what she sees (and what we, with her, can hear). This subjectivised mode is highly political, as it strips away detail or context, reducing Cecilia’s last act to the only thing that ultimately matters: a woman’s choice. 

 ► Immaculate is in UK cinemas now.