Agnes beings in a convent, with a young nun standing up at a dinner table and proclaiming all of her sisters whores, among other things. Naturally, the assumption is that she is possessed, and the church dispatches a disillusioned older priest with a young, idealistic (almost) priest to keep an eye on him. If this sounds like the setup for a million other possessed nun stories, that’s because it is, right down to how fast it becomes clear that the priests are in over their heads. This isn’t a million other possessed nun stories, though.
Director Mickey Reece seems to know that, too, and about halfway into this story, it takes a sharp left turn from being a story of demonic possession to being a melancholy character study focusing on past trauma and how to deal with it. The resulting story is not the one the film is initially advertising, but it remains a compelling drama regardless.
Molly C Quinn’s performance as Mary, the lead character in the second half, is nuanced and subtle in exactly the ways it needs to be, explosive and weird when it needs to be. Ben Hall (who appeared in Reece’s Climate of the Hunter last year) is also excellent as the disillusioned older priest, wearing his cynicism on his sleeve in a strangely endearing way. There are also good supporting turns from Chris Sullivan (playing Mary’s jerk-and-probably-sexual-predator boss) and Sean Gunn as a stand-up comedian with a connection to Mary’s past.
Agnes won’t be a film for everyone, the left turn in the middle coupled with an abrupt ending will surely rub some viewers the wrong way, but the ideas being discussed and the performances within it make the film worth exploring for yourself.
Agnes is playing for Canadian audiences as part of the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival through August 25th.
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