Darren Lynn Bousman is back behind the camera for his first directorial effort since the 2016 Abattoir. Of course, Bousman is best known for his work on the better Saw sequels. Now Bousman is diving into religious horror with nunsploitation flick, St. Agatha. Scary nuns are back in style again since The Nun came out last fall. But can Bousman deliver more consistent scares?
Set in 1950’s Georgia, Mary is a single and pregnant small-town grifter. When she runs out of money, Mary turns to an isolated convent run by nuns for shelter. At first, Mary seems to have found an ideal place to have her baby. But she quickly learns that the Mother Superior has very different plans for her baby.
Bousman Re-Kindles His Penchant for Striking Horror Visuals
With three Saw movies under his belt, Bousman knows a thing or two about disturbing imagery. It’s a skill he puts to good use in St Agatha. From the movie’s opening minutes, Bousman conjures up some pretty effective horror atmosphere. Almost immediately from the outset, Bousman immerses the audience in St Agatha’s strange world. Discordant lighting and disturbing images quickly create a nightmare world. Like the Saw movies, St Agatha also startles with some surprisingly offbeat violence. A couple of scenes involving regurgitation may turn some stomachs. Composer Mark Syfritz gets a big assist with his genuinely haunting score that accompanies Bousman’s visuals.
Though St Agatha hints at one direction, it eventually takes a much less interesting route.
If St Agatha falls short of being a truly great horror movie, you can probably point a finger at its story. Though St Agatha often achieves minor horror mastery with its visuals, the story falls short in several ways. First and foremost, St Agatha tips its hand far too early into the movie. There’s little in the way of build-up or mystery. Carolyn Hennesy’s ‘Mother Superior’ almost instantly dials up the villainy. Viewers may also be dissatisfied with the convent’s ultimate ploy. Though St Agatha hints at one direction, it eventually takes a much less interesting route.
St Agatha is a Tonally Messy Movie
Where St Agatha also falls short is in its inability to establish a consistent tone. Bousman doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie he wants to make. On the one hand, St Agatha often feels like a ‘nuns-ploitation’ flick, willing to embrace the kooky excesses of 70’s exploitation movies. Some of the movie’s idiosyncratic violence and Carolyn Hennesy’s over-the-top performance certainly evoke an exploitation vibe. But St Agatha also feels like it wants to be serious horror a la The Conjuring. Much of the southern Gothic imagery feels like it belongs in a more serious horror movie.
Bousman does come pretty close to going full exploitation movie with his climax.
Unfortunately, St Agatha never fully embraces one distinct tone. Bousman does come pretty close to going full exploitation movie with his climax. I can honestly say that watching someone get strangled with an umbilical cord has to be a horror movie first. Syfritz’s score similarly detours from subtly creepy to outright strange as things kick into high gear.
Hit and Miss Effort Gets Enough Right To Recommend
Neither ‘serious’ horror nor 100% crazy exploitation, Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest movie is an uneven effort. Still there’s enough St Agatha does right to make it a worthwhile watch for horror fans. Come for some creepy visual imagery, stay for Hennesy’s delightfully nasty ‘Mother Superior’.
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