Darren Lynn Bousman is a filmmaker all horror fans are familiar with. His work on the Saw films has made the franchise what it is today, and his Tension Experience has completely changed what people thought possible with immersive storytelling. His latest film St. Agatha recently held it’s world premiere at The Overlook Film Festival.
I was not raised catholic, so I have no way of knowing if the historical St Agatha of Sicily is someone I’m supposed to be scared of, intimated by, or if she actually has any relevance to the story. My religious experience was built mostly on boring Sunday School classes and nativity scenes. According to Wikipedia, St. Agatha is the patron saint of “breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna”. So there’s that.
St. Agatha follows pregnant con woman Mary (Sabrina Kern), who’s taken up shelter in a rather strict convent after hitting rock bottom. A nun approaches Mary in a soup kitchen to offer a helping hand in her time of need. She is driven deep into a forest and dropped off a considerable distance from the convent, like an explorer who’s guide refuses to venture onto cursed land. After trudging through tall grass and avoiding bear traps, her new home appears in the fog.
Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) walks Mary through the convent, explains her duties as a lodger and as a god-fearing woman of faith. The other women in Mother Superior‘s care warn Mary that these rules are strictly enforced. In no position to turn down free room and board, Mary tells herself that she can live with a few rules, no matter how absurd. Of course it isn’t long before she suspects the help offered is less than charitable and something sinister is at play in the secluded nunnery.
“St. Agatha is a throwback to Nunsploitation films of the 70’s, injected with tension and paranoia, but I saw very little of either.“
It’s true, these nuns aren’t exactly on the up-and-up, but I had hoped to see a more supernatural angle explored. In some scenes there are hints to a sinister presence, a malevolent voice whispering in the dark, but it’s used only for momentary shocks. I’ve heard a lot of talk that St. Agatha is a throwback to Nunsploitation films of the 70’s, injected with tension and paranoia, but I saw very little of either. I’m not incredibly familiar with Nunsploitation as a genre but on the other hand, if it means seeing more nuns wielding shotguns – then count me in.
Bousman has clearly waved goodbye to the extremes of his previous work, but St. Agatha does have a few scenes that made me (and an theatre full of hardened horror fans) squirm, not to mention a finale that was just pure primal rage.
St. Agatha, as I saw it, teased horrors that never fully arrived, holding back for so long that when real danger does appear, I was no longer excited to see what we’d been waiting for. When Mary enters the convent it’s as though we’ve stepped into another world, lorded over by an oppressive force. That warped reality is woven into the film visually, but its story is relatively straight forward and doesn’t hold you for more than a scene or two at a time.
St. Agatha is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman and stars Sabrina Kern, Carolyn Hennesy (TV’s True Blood), Courtney Halverson (Unfriended). Rounding out the cast are Justin Miles (The Crazies), Hannah Fierman (Siren), and Seth Michaels. St. Agatha does not yet have a release date, but was recently acquired by Octane Entertainment ahead of the 2017 American Film Market.
We caught St. Agatha at the 2018 Overlook Film Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana. Stick around Nightmare on Film Street for even more festival coverage, and check out our Twitter and Instagram pages for highlights from the event.