Oklahoma director Mickey Reece’s films can be maddening as hell.
It’s a purely personal stance and wholly original formula that, with Agnes—his most successful bid for mainstream acceptance yet—he refuses to back down on, only to deliver one of the year’s most heart-wrenching takes on, of all things, the diabolical nunsploitaiton genre.
When asked by the religious higher-ups to check out a strange case of Satanic occupation in a rather emotionally cold convent, the disgraced Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and the novice seminary graduate Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) find the brutally overtaken Agnes (Hayley McFarland), a young nun that spits blood and shouts profanities like the best demons in Hell would.
After she nearly bites Donaghue’s nose off, they call in the former priest and current reality TV star Father Black (Chris Browning) to deal with this dark situation, a series of events that leads to some truly horrific moments of demonic defenses where, honestly, nothing gets solved but, as we soon learn, it doesn’t have to.
As the nunnery is closed and everyone is eventually spread out, one of the young nuns that were closest to Agnes, Sister Mary (Molly Quinn), leaves the order and becomes a check-out girl in an Oklahoma City supermarket I’m sure we’ve been to many times at 3 a.m., complete with a sleazy boss that continually tries to come on to Mary.
But she’s different. When a meeting with a middling comedian (Sean Gunn) forces Mary to face feelings—the same feelings that forced her into behind convent walls—hints at both demonic possession and mental illness, something that is never explained, leaving the film scarier when you sit down to dwell on it.
It leaves you with a disoriented dream-like feeling—atmospheric changes, plot breaks, tone creaks—that is highly unsettling yet infinitely watchable.
Director Reece is at the top of his game here, with the true lead of the film, Quinn, giving her heart and soul—or, perhaps, a total lack of them—to deliver an unsettling character study that is in no way quickly forgettable; the way her eyes glaze over while the real world and religious teachings confound and confuse her is, at the same time, heartbreaking and terrifying.
Agnes left me a metaphorically broken shell in the same way, infernal hosts and demonic ghosts swimming through my poisoned mind, perhaps making the film even more horrifying than it probably should have been.