Joseph’s Review: Agnes (Tribeca Festival 2021)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Destined to be one of the most talked-about and divisive fright-fare films of the year, auteur Mickey (Climate of the Hunter) Reece’s possession-horror feature brings “But is it horror?” to a whole new level.

Directed by Mickey Reece

Strap yourselves down for Agnes, demonic possession film fans. Indie auteur Mickey Reece’s follow-up to his 2019 “Is he really a vampire?” outing Climate of the Hunter is certain to strike up an even larger share of further “But is it horror?” debate than that motion picture. Those who wish for sensationalized possession tropes and expected good vs. evil throwdowns will be pleased — for a while, that is, until Agnes changes its pace abruptly. Viewers looking for a more unusual take on exorcism horror will find plenty to chew on once that happens.

Reece makes challenging cinema, and he doubles down on that with Agnes. Think of a slow-burn horror film that builds character development in the first half and then goes full-throttle in the second half or third act. Now reverse that, and you have somewhat of an idea how Agnes works.

Fangoria! Woo!

Scandalized Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and newly ordained Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) are tasked by a group of higher-ranking priests and the Bishop of the diocese to perform an exorcism at a secluded convent where one of the young nuns seems to be possessed. Father Donaghue is skeptical, but has no choice but to follow orders. The very strict Mother Superior (Mary Buss) wants the duo out of her convent as soon as possible, but the possessed Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) is a much harder case than Father Donaghue thought, and charismatic professional show-biz exorcist Father Black (Chris Browning) is called in. Meanwhile, Agnes’s friend Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn) quietly follows the Mother Superior’s orders and tends to Agnes as best she can.

The second part of Agnes focuses largely on Mary  as the film shifts from possession horror to character study. I will leave most of the rest of what happens after this tonal shift for viewers to discover themselves, but suffice it to say that Quinn’s performance during the second half is wonderfully nuanced. 

Reece, working from a script he cowrote with his frequent cowriter and cast member John Selvidge, has crafted a marvelous looking film that poses questions and reaches for answers it might not fully realize or flesh out, but makes a noble attempt at doing so. The script is infused with occasional dark comedy, often delivered dryly.

The cast, which is considerably larger than mentioned here, is solid throughout. Hall and Horowitz have great chemistry together to open the film, and Quinn is outstanding in her second-half performance.

Agnes is destined to be a divisive film. I give it a strong recommendation and hope that horror fans will give it a chance. It’s certainly a unique undergoing, and though it may not be for everyone, it will surely appeal to those who go for more challenging, offbeat cinematic fare, horror or otherwise.

Agnes had its world premiere as part of Tribeca Festival 2021, which runs June 9–20, 2021.

Review by Joseph Perry

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