“Agnes” Dissects the Dichotomy of Faith & Fear in New Ways
Oklahoma’s own proud weird filmmaker Mickey Reece has always approached his stories in the most absorbing ways. Instead of going a route where some writer/directors will essentially retread already explored elements with their own slightly different angles in an outside-in approach, Reece instead reaches directly into the heart of his films, investigating from the inside out what makes well-worn concepts like challenges of faith and identity compelling and fresh.
Agnes gives you only a spare moment to acclimate to the inner workings of a Carmelite sisterhood and barely a glimpse into its politics before throwing the first stone — almost literally — kicking the plot device into gear. Its investigations are as biting as they are open-ended, turning stones over not only to disrupt what may be underneath but more importantly for those standing by watching to take note of what goes on below the surface. It peers into the church’s treatment of trust and discipline in those who give nothing short of their life and love for an ideal that is never met with the same purity of heart, and gives in turn an apprehensive and polite disgust with only the mask of order and organization to shield it.
This is ultimately a possession film, and Reece approaches it much in the same fashion an ordained priest would a possessed victim. While we barely get a glimpse of the titular sister Agnes as she was before, her true character shines through exclusively in the company of her best friend, Mary. They share a bond that is introduced early on but becomes more paramount as the film goes on. What this pulls off so well is showing not only how an experience like demonic possession can affect someone long-term, but also addressing the conditions in which it happens. The residence of the sisterhood, ruled by the stifling Mother Superior, is far from a hospitable environment. There are near-endless reasons why anyone would join a convent: safety, security, piety, as well as endless reasons behind each of those few. The story focuses more on how Mary & Agnes feel about where they are now based on their original decision to join the Carmelite sisterhood.
The film is essentially of two minds — one of fear, one of love — and bisects those accordingly in an almost too-concise split illustrated in its midpoint. With the sheer volume of films Reece has written and directed, he’s shown that there’s nothing he would create that doesn’t interest himself personally, and in Agnes it feels most evident that this bifurcation pulls from a personal place. It’s a challenging format for him, but challenges are what this filmmaker thrives on. The prowess he displays in structure of this flows so well in each segmented half but a considerable distance exists between the two. This may well be the point from an analysis aspect but in viewing the film, especially for the first time, it does feel jarring. But so does Mary in making the decisions she makes. There’s a struggle with confidence in re-creating who you are inside after something traumatic shakes the internal identity of a person to their core.
Mickey Reece wouldn’t care to make a traditionally structured possession film, and probably stewed on how he wanted to prepare this one. A basic approach like your Exorcist or even Evil Dead did something new then for many different people and this is no exception. Agnes is certainly an unconventional look at all the above fears, desires, and criticisms but it’s in this rich examination that outlines what it really means to be greater than the sum of its parts.
Agnes is now available to watch on VOD through Magnet Releasing.