Beautifully shot, genuinely funny and moving, Agnes will be divisive with its contemplative approach to the subject matter and huge tonal shift. Much like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, Mickey Reece’s film seeks to tell a larger truth through juxtaposing stories and styles. Threads connect the two halves, just enough so you can find your bearings.
In the beginning Agnes is the story of a nun, a possession, and the priests sent to cure her. Peppered with deadpan comedy, a lingering sense of unease and a refreshingly realistic approach to exorcism, it weaves between devoutness and parody, all the while asking what it means to be possessed. Something is afflicting Agnes, that can’t be denied, but she is lucid in her conversations with Mary, who also has moments where unexplained things happen. Is she possessed too? Sadly, yes. Both the women are possessed, but it’s not quite as demonic as it originally appears.
When the film takes a right-angle turn into Mary’s post-convent minimum-wage life, it becomes almost unrecognisable, leaving the viewer reeling, as the palette changes from shades of white to muddy greys and greens. This shift is sure to alienate many, but it is here where the film really hones in on its central ideas. At its heart, Agnes is a film about transition; whether it be from faith to doubt or from grief to acceptance, it’s all about the journey. At first, the camera lingers on the minutiae of life — leaves, insects, flowers — inviting consideration of the details of God’s creation, while the second half is all about the wider world. A place that is dark and drab and filled with horrible, distorted caricatures.
The characters in the story of Agnes’ exorcism are so well-drawn they feel like real people who just happen to be nuns or clergymen, whereas outside the ecclesiastical world, people are cartoonishly gross; schlubby, corrupt, and exhibiting more of the traditional physical markers of demonic possession. It’s a testament to Reece and John Selvidge’s screenplay, along with the excellent showing by almost everyone in front of the camera, that near everybody feels tangible — no matter how ugly and amoral they are.
Ultimately, Reece seems to lose confidence in his telling of the underlying message, spilling platitudes across the film’s first half and eventually telegraphing it over the film’s climactic conversation. Despite this, it narrowly avoids cop out and instead lands on catharsis; those who stick with it will be rewarded with an ending that feels thoroughly resolved.
4 April 2022
18 April 2022