This set in the 1950s period piece written by Andy Demetrio, Shawn Fletcher, Sara Sometti Michaels, and Clint Sears, and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman is a slow burn, religious thriller where the horror is definitely more psychological than what most are used to from Bousman. The film is very much character-based and builds tension from interpersonal relationships, from the fear of what might be, what could be hiding in the house, and from evil intentions, real or imagined. The story starts out slow and picks up some momentum at a rather low pace until about 2/3 in. This leads to the film being the very definition of a slow burn and psychological horror.
The cast here is mostly feminine with nuns and pregnant girls dominating the film to great effect. There is an almost competitive level to things at times and a sisterhood for survival at the same time with some truly messed up stuff happening in between. In the lead of Mary, actress Sabrina Kern and her performance is good for most of the film and moves into borderline great as the film advances. Her work near the end is fantastic. Playing the head nun, Mother Superior, is Carolyn Hennesy who is devilishly fucked up. Her intentions are bad and her work playing both victimizer and supposed victim is something that works amazingly here. The one performance that comes up on top as the best here is that of the under-rated, under-used Courtney Halverson who is subtle, nuanced, and just on point at all times. Her performance pulls the viewers in and doesn’t let them go in all the scenes she is in, making many wish that she had much more scenes. The rest of the small cast is clearly talented and all give more than decent performances, creating a great ensemble for a creepy effect that works very well.
One of the best aspects of St. Agatha is the way it is shot with long sweeping takes that showcase the house it’s set in to make it very interesting and creepy all at once. The images are beautiful and make the eye wander to see all that there is to see on the screen. The cinematography by Joseph White paired with the editing by Patrick Perry, Gerhardt Slawitschka, and Brian J. Smith works to create the mood of the film and something that the viewer can get lost looking into. While the cinematography is beautiful throughout the film, the editing does occasional come off a bit uneven or like there is no one style or directing to it once it’s all put together which is something that may be due to the story, the direction, or perhaps the use of too many editors, thus diluting the vision.
This all comes together to make of St. Agatha a film full of mood and atmosphere with sweeping beautiful shots and some truly great performances. The film as a whole ends up feeling a bit long and this may lose some people but the ending is absolutely worth sticking around as well as the evolution of Sabrina Kern as Mary from her meek start to the end where she changes in the ways she needs. The film is very much about survival, competition, evil intentions, and sisterhood in despair. It’s a slow burn at first but once things get really going, it grabs the viewer and keeps them involved.