Agnes (2021) review

By Daniel King

What an odd film. I have never seen anything like it in the sense that a good way through it ceases to be what it began as and becomes an almost entirely different film.

The first part is a derivative exorcist movie: substitute Ellen Burstyn’s house for a convent and they’re virtually the same. There’s an older exorcist and a younger one, one of whom is questioning his faith, who are tasked with driving a demon out of a young nun. There’s no head turning but there is plenty of talk of ‘cocksuckers’. It’s impossible to take seriously, partly because of the unoriginality, partly because of some ripe acting, and partly because I think it’s meant to be taken as black comedy. It certainly isn’t frightening.

Then the film comes to a juddering halt and turns into a drama about a young woman trying to make her way in a United States that cares little for people at the margins. Okay, the young woman in question – Mary (Molly C. Quinn) – had fled the convent from the first half but there are few links beyond that. She’s hit on by most of the grotesque men she has to deal with and finds life increasingly precarious. I think it’s all about loss of faith and how that lets the devil in, which is a rather conservative message; a priest tells her that life is like a sandwich – something about having to chew through stale bread and tasteless tomatoes in order to get to the lovely meat in the middle.

Frankly it’s a bit of a mess. I don’t know anything about the production history but the two halves don’t match up well: were they two short films stuck together to make a feature? If the producers had made two separate films – a darkly comic possession flick, and a gritty urban drama – I think both would have been very watchable.

Agnes screened as part of the Tribeca Film Festival 2021.

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