TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! In most synopses I have seen, Mickey Reece’s latest film, Agnes, is presented to us as a film about demonic possession. It’s what I thought would be the focal point of the film. I should have known better because it’s Mickey Reece. He has a way of taking genre material and turning it into something philosophical, which he did deftly with his last film, Climate of the Hunter. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of demon voices, Our Fathers, and things moving of their own accord. It’s just not the meat in the sandwich, as it were. That would be faith in general and what it looks like for different people when they lose it.
Agnes (Hayley McFarland) is a nun at St. Theresa’s convent. It is a strict traditional convent, where the nuns don’t leave the grounds, and austerity is demanded in spades. This is partly due to Mother Superior’s iron fist (played by Mickey Reece regular Mary Buss). Her faith is steeped in the Catholic traditions, so she is none too pleased when Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) arrives at the convent to stage an exorcism with an unordained acolyte accompanying him. However, she doesn’t have anything to worry about because said acolyte, Benjamin, is the picture of a perfect priest-in-training. Father Donaghue, however, has a much less traditional methodology. First of all, he doesn’t believe in demons, saying that they’re “medieval” tall tales. He believes that the only reason the exorcisms work is that the people receiving them believe in God. It’s their faith that saves them.
“…Father Donaghue arrives at the convent to stage an exorcism with an unordained acolyte…”
Father Donaghue has exceptionally bad luck with his first try at exorcising Agnes’s demon. He’s even scared and might have changed his tune on the existence of Satan’s spawn. This is when he calls on Father Black (Chris Browning). Father Black had been excommunicated from the church years before but travels the world performing tv exorcisms now. Mother Superior is furious. Unfortunately, Father Black is equally unsuccessful. Amongst all of this, we get to meet some of the sisters. There’s Sister Mary (Molly C. Quinn), Sister Honey (Zandy Hartig), Sister Ruth (Rachel True), and several others who we don’t get a chance to meet. Mary is the closest with Agnes. She is tasked with looking after her. She’s very frightened but then realizes that when she goes in that Agnes is kind to her. This is the beginning of Mary’s crisis of faith, which begins with her leaving the convent just as the whole exorcism bruhaha is coming to a head. The whole second half of the film could be attached to another movie because it’s so different in tone and story. It’s about Mary trying to find her bearings in the real world after being in the convent for so long. She gets a job at a grocery store, she goes on a date with comedian Paul Satchimo (Sean Gunn), but nothing fills the void that used to be occupied by God.
I love all of the Mickey Reece films I’ve seen. He is one of the few modern independent filmmakers today who has a very singular voice and vision. (Seriously, his only rivals in that regard, in my opinion, are the Safdie Brothers.) If you’ve seen one Mickey Reece film, you can tell when you’re watching another one. It could be that he often uses the same actors. It’s not just that though. The worlds he builds for each of his films appear to be stark and simple at first glance but are always truly rich with meaning. Reece is not an auteur perse because his attitude is much more guerilla. He’s all about getting the finished product out to audiences, no matter what. He always manages to make something amazing. Even with low budgets, his films are always high quality. Agnes is no exception. The only different thing this go-round is that Reece cast a couple of “names” alongside his usual team of amazing actors, including Ginger Gilmartin, Mary Buss, Ben Hall, and Jacob Ryan Scovel. Rachel True and Sean Gunn both joined the cast of Agnes. I can only hope that as Reece’s career progresses, he gets bigger and better budgets. His vision is certainly deserving of that, and Agnes is just more proof in the pudding.
Agnes screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
"…has a way of taking genre material and turning it into something philosophical,"