[Fantasia Fest 2021] AGNES Review: Mickey Reece Delivers a Beautiful Tale About Questioning Faith

By: Emily von Seele

Agnes

There is something truly fascinating about Mickey Reece’s brand of storytelling. Much like Climate Of The Hunter, Agnes is a film that doesn’t broadcast where it is headed and takes the audience on a fascinating and unexpected journey. It’s supernatural in ways, yet very grounded in others. It’s a quiet story, populated by characters who are struggling with uncertainty and questions of faith.

Father Donaghue (Ben Hall) and his seminary student Benjamin (Jake Horowitz) are summoned to the office of the Bishop to discuss a troubling incident that is taking place at a remote convent. Apparently, one of the nuns has been displaying signs of demonic possession and no medical or psychological cause has been uncovered. Father Donaghue has been trained in the Right of Exorcism and has performed the ritual multiple times, so they want him to investigate and see if he can bring the Sisters some peace.

When he arrives at the convent, Father Donaghue discovers that the afflicted Sister Agnes (Hayley McFarland) is deeply affected. In fact, she has grown so violent that the Sisters have had to restrain her. Agnes, we learn, came to the convent after losing love in the outside world and sought a reprieve. There, she befriended Mary, another nun who came to the convent under similar circumstances. The pair became each other’s only friend in the world. As the story progresses, the focus shifts to Mary and the emptiness in her heart that led her to pursue the life of a nun.

The script, from Reece and John Selvidge, takes its time unfolding. Though we get to the action pretty quickly, the film really isn’t about “action.” The story is less about possession and more about the empty space that the possession moves into. It’s a contemplative piece that is more concerned with themes than a particular supernatural element. And Reece, much like in Climate Of The Hunter, tells this story outside of time and place. It at once feels old and new and has a mysterious quality to it; one that matches the big questions at the heart of its thesis.

Agnes is a small film that takes on some big concepts, and none of this could be brought to life without an excellent cast. Molly C. Quinn inhabits the role of Mary in a way that perfectly illustrates the struggle Mary is wrestling with. There is a delicateness to her character that Quinn embraces fully. Though she has been through hell and back, we look at Mary and feel like she might shatter at any moment. Rachel True (I squee’d when I saw her name in the credits), Jake Horowitz, Sean Gunn, Ben Hall, and Cait Brasel provide exceptional help in setting the stage for the questions that this film ends up asking. Through these characters, we see the bounds between the faithful, the faithless, and the chasm that exists between the two.

Ultimately, Agnes is an examination of faith and how it can be lost. And potentially regained. A number of characters in this story have had their faith tested, with varying results. Some find a way to live with it, while others completely spin out and find themselves lost.

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