By: Kayla Caldwell
AGNES begins with a demonic outburst from the titular possessed nun, before cutting to a much more real horror, a bunch of priests and a bishop laughing and joking about a priest who had fallen into disgrace due to allegations of sexual abuse of minors. That's when you realize AGNES is not going to be your typical possession movie.
The disgraced priest is Father Donaghue (Ben Hall), and they're sending him to do an exorcism because of his poor standing. Of course, he doesn't even believe in demons, or probably even God. He sounds like he's trying to talk Benjamin (Jake Horowitz), who's due to take his vows in mere weeks, out of becoming a priest. He often tries to change the topic to sex, even though he knows it makes everyone uncomfortable.
Father Donaghue tells Benjamin that exorcisms are a lot more common than he thinks, the church is just hush hush about it. He says, "Even in our current age, less people believe in God, it seems that belief in the devil is rising. Maybe that means he's winning. I don't know." He also admits that even though he doesn't believe, exorcisms do work, because sometimes people need a man of God to save them in order to get well.
Benjamin and Father Donaghue arrive to see the Carmelite nuns, a very strict, cloistered, old-fashioned convent. It's not exactly a warm welcome, as Mother Superior (Mary Buss) is mad Father Donaghue brought along a young man who has yet to take his vows. He continued to ruffle feathers by asking Mother Superior for wine, and then being oddly sexual when he went to her room at night to apologize. At one point, he pulls out a flash and pours from it into his coffee. This man is like Michael Scott after he gave his two-week notice.
As Benjamin, Mother Superior, and Father Donaghue walk down the hall to see Agnes, they look like a trio of rock stars of pro ballers rather than what they actually are - a couple of virgins and a pervy old guy. It's a good, comedic moment. Meanwhile, Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn) is clearly hated by Mother Superior, seemingly just for having been friends with Agnes (Hayley McFarland). Though later flashes of memories show Mary and Agnes smoking and going on dates, so perhaps Mother Superior could just tell Mary's got secrets.
After a horribly uncomfortable display, wherein Agnes, in a wheelchair, looking like a Lydia Deetz cosplayer, starts yelling, "Father Flynn, he touched my wee wee," before biting Father Donaghue's face. We see the man of God get desperate enough to call in Father Black (Chris Browning), a Jim Bakker-esque, excommunicated, priest who reminds me of Steven Tyler, and does TV interviews about how his sister has been possessed by a demon pretty much her entire life.
In a moment between Mary and Agnes's demon, we learn Mary suffered a great loss, and that's how she found herself here. It's telling that the only one to take an interest in Mary and her history is the demon. When things take a turn for the worst, she tries to get help from Mother Superior, but is met with more of a slap in the face, as she is called a slut for not wearing her habit. That's the final straw for Mary, who packs her things as Mr. Hollywood himself arrives. He walks in like he owns the place, with a smoking woman who won't introduce herself. He puts on a ridiculous display, acting like he banished the demon, just before she attacks his face like a Florida man on bath salts. We see Mary share a knowing glance with Father Donaghue as she leaves, and it is weird.
This is where we switch gears to follow Mary. It's almost as if we're watching a new movie. Unfortunately for Mary, things don't get any better in the outside world. Her boss is a skeezy creep (Chris Sullivan) who is clearly day dreaming about hooking up with a former nun, and her landlord (Bruce Davis) is raising her rent, despite promising her it would be a lower price. At every turn, people are invalidating Mary, trying to violate her, and/or trying to control her. Even her nun friends are trying to get her to join them at a new convent that is supposedly much less strict. [Editor's note: One of these nuns is played by the great Rachel True, best known for playing Rochelle in The Craft.]
Things get weirder when Mary catches a comedy show, which she notices features Paul Satchimo (Sean Gunn - or Kirk from Gilmore Girls!), who happens to be the man Agnes named as the former love of her life. She pursues him romantically, despite the fact that 1) he dated her friend, and 2) when he dated her friend, she was his student. They start making out after Mary tells him about her dead son, which seems like weird foreplay to me, but whatever. Their encounter takes a violent turn (on Mary's part), and it seems like we've conjured that demon back, as she goes on to attack her boss, and even herself. Of course, unresolved trauma also manifests in strange ways.
Fast forward some time, and we see a deflated Mary chatting with Benjamin, who is now a priest, over lunch. He gives this big sandwich analogy about faith, also saying that you essentially need loss so that you can make room for the Holy Spirit.
The story seemed incredibly bizarre on first viewing, but I guess the narrative doesn't necessarily have to be linear. AGNES is more of a rumination on faith in general, as a concept, rather than propaganda for either side. We're just seeing this person who has lived as a woman of religion, and then in the secular world, without confirming which one was better. Both have their drawbacks. In the end, it's difficult to say which way Mary would go, but it does give you something to think about.
If you're looking for a traditional exorcism horror, rife with jump scares, AGNES is not the film for you. It is however, great if you'd like to contemplate or debate some of the deeper, more complicated issues in life. AGNES is a strange ride, but Molly C. Quinn's acting shines. You feel her struggle as she deals with very relatable hardships (and some not so relatable).
AGNES is available on VOD now.