Genre : Horror-Thriller
Rating : Unrated
Director: Darren Lynn Bousman
There is a lot that can be said about the Saw franchise. From its unique, low budget aesthetic to the influx of splatter movies that came in its wake James Wan’s directorial debut is a true landmark in horror. But as influential as it is in front of the camera it may have had an even bigger impact behind the scenes. While we all know Saw is where James Wan (Insidious, Aquaman) and Leigh Whannell (Upgrade) broke out it was the launching grounds for quite a few talents with the most notable being Darren Lynn Bousman.
The director of Saw II, III and IV, Bousman has one of the most diverse filmographies in horror. After leaving the blood soaked world of Jigsaw he has flexed his creative muscles doing everything from hunting the Jersey Devil in The Barrens and stopping the apocalypse in 11-11-11 to reinventing a cult classic in Mother’s Day. He has even directed macabre musicals The Devil’s Carnival and Repo! A Genetic Opera. True to form Bousman takes on another seldom seen subgenres with his latest film, St. Agatha.
It is 1957 and Mary’s life is out of control. As her life spiraling out of control she is shocked to discover she is pregnant. With few options left, and wanting to give her unborn child the kind of chance she never had, she goes to live at a convent for wayward girls. Living under the thumb of the strict Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy), Mary learns there is much more to the Convent Sisters of Divinity than meets the eye.
True to form, Darren Lynn Bousman enters a rarely touched realm of nun-sploitation. Less gory than the rest of his filmography Bousman relies more on mood and performances to get the horror across. Aside from the occasional budget-based hiccup it absolutely pays off. The tension built in each scene results in one of the most satisfying payoffs I’ve seen in quite some time. That isn’t to say there isn’t any gore at all. You can definitely see some of that Saw influence there. In fact, St. Agatha has multiple moments that will have you screaming at your television screen. One punishment in particular will leave you absolutely speechless. It’s just that St. Agatha is more focused on featuring some of the baddest nuns you’ll ever see with the baddest nun being Mother Superior.
Portrayed by Carolyn Hennesy she’s the true highlight of the film. With an icy state and a delivery sharper than a chainsaw Hennesy’s Mother Superior is a nun bad enough to put Valak on notice. Stealing every scene she is in, Carolyn Hennesy is clearly St. Agatha‘s MVP. That isn’t to say that the other actors are bad. In fact, a big reason Hennesy’s performance works is because of Sabrina Kern’s performance as Mary. Played with the perfect mix of vulnerability and determination, put is put through absolute hell by Mother Superior and yet her rebellion against her still feels natural. And although Kern is just as good with her other co-stars the tension between Mary and Mother Superior is what keeps the film going.
As much praise I have for the movie it isn’t perfect. As great as the main cast is I found the supporting cast to be lacking. It is particularly noticable in the flashbacks to Mary’s life before the convent. While Justin Miles as great as Mary’s musician boyfriend lesser characters like her brother and father leave a bit to be desired. Also, as mentioned, St. Agatha is a bit rough around the edges thanks to its low budget. Even though the gorier scenes are all done with practical effects some of the more mind-bending threats to Mary are done through CG which doesn’t look nearly as good. The same issues pop up when it comes to the movie’s sound design. For the most part it sounds great but every now and then an obviously stock sound effect would pop up and take me completely out of the movie. It may be the kind of sacrifice you need to make in low budget film making but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
St. Agatha isn’t your typical horror movie. Anchored by surprisingly complex performances from Sabrina Kern and Carolyn Hennesy, Darren Lynn Bousman has created a gothic tinged thriller out of a woman’s unfortunate situation in a world that isn’t ready for it yet. And although one can see the seams of the movie if they look hard enough a stellar cast and foreboding atmosphere keep St. Agatha from exposing its low budget roots from showing for the most part.