Eye For Film >> Movies >> Agnes (2021) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Something is wrong with Agnes (Hayley McFarland). She’s behaving in a most unseemly way for a nun and her Mother Superior suspects, well, the usual – that some demonic entity has succeeded in getting hold of her. Naturally the Church is a bit embarrassed by this and would prefer to avoid reports leaking into the wider world, so it turns to Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and earnest young acolyte Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) for help. Benjamin, told not to let anyone know that he isn’t yet ordained, instantly inspires lustful comments from the nuns and thus attracts the Mother Superior’s ire. Donaghue is caught up in accusations that he abused a child, but this is, at least in context, treated as less of a problem. its primary function is to discomfort the viewer as the charismatic Hall draws us onto his side.
This is very distinctly a Mickey Reece film, playing fast and loose with narrative conventions, coming across more like a record of true events in its deliberate disjointedness, but with a lot going on beneath the surface. Reece knows the visual language of the exorcism film well and finds surprising richness in what he himself described as a drab environment. His camera loves the black and white of the nuns’ habits, finding subtler shades as the light plays across them, and all those neatly framed faces with silent stories to tell. Whilst he plays the game for just long enough to show us how easily he could master it, however, he’s not interested in retreading familiar ground, and the film takes an abrupt change of direction halfway through, following Agnes’ friend Mary (Molly C Quinn) as she gives up the religious voice and starts looking for something else with which to fill the void.
Reece is very much an actors’ director and he draws out splendid performances from his cast in what, for all its blackly comic moments, is a gentle, thoughtful fable about faith and the role it plays in many people’s lives. If you’re approaching it through the lens of faith yourself, you won’t feel mocked or sidelined – just remember that this is (at least in general outline) a horror film and a few moments may shock you. They may also make you laugh out loud. It screened at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, where it divided audiences more because of its unconventional form than its philosophy.
This philosophy is expressed in an oblique, meditative way as we watch Mary go about her day to day life: taking a room, finding a job, managing her boss’ sleazy advances and her co-worker’s lies, and, almost as a hobby, trying to piece together remnants of Agnes’ life before the convent – a quest which leads her to connect with comedian Paul (Sean Gunn), a possible romantic interest. If you find yourself wondering why any of this matters (beautifully presented though its is), well, Mary is wondering that too. Reece’s careful framing shows her dwarfed by vast spaces or looking lost at the edge of a crowd, but she’s not easy prey for anyone. She’s already experienced a loss which continues to dominate her life, and one gets the impression that nothing has ever been able to touch that lost thing ether emotionally or spiritually.
Nothing is left to chance in Reece’s film, so it’s worth noting that the convent is dedicated to Saint Theresa, a woman known both for her philosophy and for her desire to eschew accepted doctrine and walk out into the world – as well as for her words of wisdom “There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2021
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