Demon possession movies, although constant crowd-pleasers, are often very predictable. The multi-million dollar Conjuring franchise has pretty much laid out the groundwork for what a modern possession movie “should” look like, but occasionally a film like Mickey Reece’s Agnes comes along to challenge that well-worn template. Directed by Reece from a script he co-wrote with John Selvidge, Agnes celebrated its world online premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. The film stars Ben Hall, Mary Buss, and Ginger Gilmartin who also starred in Reece’s Climate of The Hunter, as well as Jake Horowitz (The Vast of Night), Sean Gunn (Gilmore Girls), Hayley McFarland (The Conjuring), Chris Browning (Bright), and Molly C. Quinn (Castle) who also served as an executive produced.
After the shocking possession of a young nun, disgraced priest Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and his church-appointed chaperone Deacon Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) make their way to the remote convent in hopes of healing this demon-stricken Agnes (Hayley McFarland). Father Donaghue openly claims that he does not believe in demons and that all exorcisms are merely a psychological treatment for heavily religious people suffering from some mental distress. Of course, the demon doesn’t care whether or not Father Donaghue believes in it. Demons are present, they are in Agnes, and they want very much to destroy the faith of everyone that comes in contact with them, including- and most especially- Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn).
At their core, possession movies have always been about a crisis of faith. But possession movies don’t have time for no chicken-soup-for-the-teenage-soul style crisis of faith story. These crises come pre-packaged with foul-mouthed entities, projectile vomit, and gale-force demon winds. You’ll find all the possession movies staples in Agnes but where the movie really sets itself apart from the rest of the subgenre is the deep dive into those most affected by it’s cruel demon. Molly C. Quin’s Sister Mary sought refuge in the church after a traumatic event in her pre-nun life but the possession of her friend Agnes has thrown her back into a downward spiral.
Agnes isn’t titled “Sister Mary” for the same reason The Exorcist isn’t titled “The Exorcism“. The story was never about the demon or it’s flashy tricks, or even the possession itself. The story is about the character at the center of this spooky scripture circus grappling with the idea of believing in a loving God when faced with the living embodiment of hate and hellfire. That midpoint shift is a hard left turn in the story. The front half is very possession-horror heavy but it’s pushed aside for its main attraction: a character study of Sister Mary. It’s a lot like a rock band burning through all their radio hits early in the setlist so they can focus their attention on the music that really sells them as artists. It’s completely unexpected and will either make or break the movie for most viewers. That unpredictability is exactly what I have come to love about Reece’s filmmaking but your enjoyment of Agnes is dependant on your willingness to explore the ripples of these characters’ lives as they stretch out beyond that attention-grabbing possession.
Mickey Reece has proven himself to be one of today’s most unique voices on the film festival circuit. Referred to as the “Soderbergh of the Sticks” in the Tribeca write-up for the film, Reece is a shockingly prolific filmmaker, but his films are as divisive as they are diverse. Climate of The Hunter grabbed the attention of the horror community at large, and they will no doubt be pulled in by the first act of Agnes but the whole second half is a completely different movie. If you didn’t know better you’d assume your Netflix account was glitching out and played the 5th episode of a series immediately after the 1st. That isn’t to say the movie peaks early though, that latter half is where the performances really shine, especially Molly C. Quinn’s. What you lose in demon-possession fun, you gain in multi-layered, emotionally complex character exploration. Mary has a lot of demons, and not all of them as easy to banish as simply chanting “the power of Christ compels you”.
Mickey Reece’s Agnes celebrated it’s World Premiere it’s World Premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. Click HERE to follow our full coverage of the festival and be sure to let us know what you thought of the film over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.