Agnes, the new horror drama from director Mickey Reece, debuted at 2021’s Tribeca Film Festival. It’s a confounding movie, and one that’s even more difficult to review. This is mainly due to a weird mish-mash of tones and a gear-shift to the narrative that left me baffled. From the opening, I found myself engaged and excited only to have the rug pulled out from under me. This will either make or break the movie for any viewer, and I’m still not sure which side of the fence I fall on. The strengths of Agnes’ first half weigh the scale favorably in its direction; if only what followed had the same wry bite to its scripting.
In a setup extremely evocative of Sleepy Hollow, one seasoned priest with a dark past, Father Donahue (Ben Hall), and his spry young neophyte, Benjamin (Jake Horowitz), are tasked to go to Santa Theresa convent to investigate the bizarre behavior of Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland). They must analyze the symptoms, talk to the sisters, use their judgement, and rule out the worst case scenario: demonic possession. Donahue tries to dissuade the newbie about committing to the priesthood as the batshit behavior of Agnes begins to escalate.
Agnes is a film of two completely different halves. The first is a straightforward possession scarefest that is fun and engaging; the second is a melodramatic flash-forward that follows one of the nuns as she attempts to return to normalcy. There is a tonal disconnect between these two that I found nearly impenetrable. The transition to this other part stops the entire flow of the movie and gives the audience little rhyme or reason to care without resolution to what came before.
Agnes raises interesting points about the rise of belief in the devil, despite a decrease in belief in God. There is also an uber creepy turn from Chris Sullivan in the latter story. Chris Browning as Father Black provides random but effective comedic relief, despite being underused. A lack of closure in the final act left me feeling empty. I would have to watch Agnes again in order to digest the two disparate sections, but as it stands, I loved part one and strongly disliked part two.
Agnes excorcises its demons Saturday, June 12, as a selection of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.