Immaculate and Conceiving Our Own Jesus

Joshua Stevens

A combination of Rosemary’s Baby, the films of Dario Argento, and recent “nunsploitation” horror flicks like The Nun and The Nun II, Immaculate wears its religiosity on its long, dark sleeve.

Directed by Michael Mohan, Immaculate is impressing at the box office and dividing people on social media. The film’s account on X is using negative reactions from Christians on the platform to help its marketing, while star Sydney Sweeney has been reading controversial (and often out-of-context) passages of Scripture on the account as well. Can a film that seems to be going out of its way to mock Christianity have anything important to say to believers?

It turns out that Immaculate’s marketing is at odds with the movie itself. In actuality, the film reflects on the consequences of conforming Jesus into something he was never meant to be—and the deeply unfortunate role religious institutions can play in this act of heresy. (Spoilers ahead.)

In Immaculate, young Sister Cecilia (Sweeney) leaves the United States to join a convent in Italy after her own parish closes due to low attendance. The new convent tends to elderly nuns who are in their final days. After taking her vows, Cecilia begins to help with this project, until something unexplainable happens to her: she immaculately conceives. This and several strange occurrences begin happening around her, leading her to question the convent and its leaders.

Immaculate’s twist puts the film’s theological concerns into clearer view. Sensing that the convent might use her miracle baby for ill, Cecilia fakes a miscarriage. When Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte) discovers the ruse, he reveals the convent’s ultimate plan. Tedeschi has been secretly running experiments from the DNA found on one of the nails used to pierce Christ on the cross. The goal is to recreate a new Messiah and bring Christ’s judgment in the Book of Revelation to fruition.

The convent, therefore, tries to warp Jesus and his mission into something that is incompatible with Scripture. Father Tedeschi believes the child Cecilia carries is truly the Christ—or at least some other form of the savior of humankind. He is trying to usher the Messiah back into the world, even though Jesus himself said, “. . . about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The supposed Christ-followers of the convent are not only neglecting Christ’s own words, they’re also ignoring the importance of the Holy Spirit. In John 16, Jesus told his disciples, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” In the wake of the resurrection and Christ’s ascension, we have been assured that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all the truth.” Through the work of the Spirit, Christians are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to spread the gospel to all nations, and not be concerned with the particulars of his return. The leaders of the convent do not heed these teachings, choosing instead to try to usher humanity towards the end times as they see fit.

It turns out that Immaculate’s marketing is at odds with the movie itself.

Besides the eschatological question, the film’s twisted third act also poses a metaphorical query: How often do we twist Christ’s image, words, and mission to fit our own agenda? We see this in our day-to-day lives, in our politics, and, most unfortunately, even in our religious institutions. This warping of the person of Christ can be ugly, as represented by the sickly baby that Cecilia brings into the world in the movie’s memorable final minutes. Though Mohan’s camera actively avoids a full look at the newborn—we see him blurred and at a distance—the sound design includes a decisively unchildlike snarling, suggesting this is something other than a light-giving savior. Despite claims this child will be Christ reincarnate, the real thing is something much more sinister—just as people who conform Christ into their own image produce something deceitful and ugly.

A key component of this reading of the film is the role the church leaders play in misrepresenting Jesus. Reports exposing corruption in the church have become common, making it easy to overlook how detrimental this malpractice is to the spreading of the gospel. Additionally, religion is increasingly being mixed with politics, with politicians selling (quite literally, in some cases) a false narrative that fuses Scripture with their ideologies. It puts a stain on the church’s reputation when people both within and without the body of Christ use religion for their own selfish, sinful purposes. When leaders of the convent in Immaculate manipulate the young women who have dedicated their lives to Christian service, it serves as a sad and sobering reflection of what can happen in the real world.

The film makes clear that Cecilia is confident in her beliefs, that she accepts the invitation to the convent out of a genuine desire to serve God. In an early scene, while going through customs, Cecilia explains how she doesn’t see her decision to join the convent as a choice, believing instead that God has plans for her life. Even when the strange and horrible occurrences afflict her, she does not seem to lose faith in God. Instead, she sees the corrupt nature of what the convent is inflicting upon her. At one point she utters in the confession booth, “This is not God’s work,” while grossly picking off one of her fingernails. Such instances of body horror— including the portrayal of the monstrous newborn—emphasize that the convent's plan is an act of desecration.

At another point in the movie, Cecilia reads 2 Corinthians 11:14, which says that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” This verse seems to be the movie’s thesis in a nutshell. Although Immaculate resorts to cliched jump scares and genre tropes at times, it also asks its audience to consider if and how they might be contorting Jesus into something unholy. How might we be disguising what is evil in a shroud of light?

Topics: Movies