In Agnes, a cynical priest and young novice approaching his vows are called to investigate rumors of demonic possession within a convent. What occurs within those walls will call forward temptations, doubt, and a true test of faith. Agnes is written and directed by Mickey Reece and stars Ben Hall (Climate of the Hunter), Jake Horowitz (The Vast of Night), and Hayley McFarland.
It is with the utmost disappointment that I report that Agnes is far from being the religious horror that audiences may be hoping for. If what you’re looking for is the expected beats of a demonic possession à la The Devils, you will be sorely disappointed. And confused. The trouble with Agnes extends beyond its failing to deliver a solid possession horror, but that it seems to have rolled two movies into one rather ineffectively.
The intention and spirit behind Agnes is not subtle. It’s a film preoccupied with the hypocrisies of the Catholic Church and endeavors to shove as many examples of that hypocrisy into a modest 90-minute runtime as possible. Agnes is playing all of the hits. There’s the priest that is accused of assaulting a minor. There’s the charismatic telepreacher who profits off dramatic exorcisms. There’s the young girl, let down by her faith and wondering why God has ignored her prayers. This parade of the forsaken is ham-fistedly stuffed into the film’s first act, given just enough time to scream its point at the audience before being escorted to the wings.
Don’t get me wrong, my critique of Agnes is not a critique of its subject. Spiritual deconstruction and criticisms of the institution of Catholicism are valid, fascinating, and have been used to great effect in film. Agnes is just not doing anything substantial with its story. The film’s attempts at illustrating the flaws in faith come off as mean-spirited rather than weighed and serious. The film postures as a story of demonic possession, and it is for the first act, but what follows is a down-and-out story of a young girl having a crisis of faith. It’s an exercise in suffering that seems to be built on a foundation of misery. Not a pleasant watch and in no way shape or form scary.
Agnes suffers from a crisis of genre identity. The bulk of the film is more akin to a sad indie drama than a horror film. At the risk of oversimplifying this critique, one gets the impression that Agnes has no idea what kind of film it wants to be and therefore ends up being a film without a genre and without a thesis.
There is very little to recommend about Agnes. The film is a garbled mess of mixed messages, bizarre narrative structure, and has a big problem with pacing. It’s a terrible shame to see solid performances and characters, all portrayed by talented actors, being wasted in this way. Everything Agnes is trying to do, The Devils has done better.
Agnes held its International Premiere at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival. The title remains a part of the fest’s On Demand library, where it may be viewed through August 25.
Movie Score: 1/5