‘Immaculate’ Director Says Sydney Sweeney Wanted to Make ‘The Most Extreme Thing We Possibly Can’

Filmmaker Michael Mohan tells TheWrap he drew inspiration from Ken Russell’s “The Devils” and Italian horror

Sydney Sweeney, a woman with light-toned skin, dressed as a nun with other nuns in the background in "Immaculate."
Sydney Sweeney in "Immaculate" (Credit: Courtesy of Neon)

Immaculate” director Michael Mohan wishes more filmmakers could work alongside a fearless actress like Sydney Sweeney. As he told TheWrap while promoting his new religious horror film, the “Euphoria” actress wanted “to make this the most extreme thing we possibly can.”

The film follows Sweeney’s Sister Cecilia, a young postulate who travels to Italy and discovers she’s become pregnant. The convent assumes she’s conceived through immaculate conception, but Cecilia begins to worry something more sinister is at play.

For Mohan, he drew inspiration for the film from several different sources, including director Ken Russell’s 1971 film “The Devils,” which also, like “Immaculate,” deals with potentially taboo and extreme themes. “What I love about Ken Russell’s work is he is just going for it,” Mohan said. “It’s something I really relate to.” Mohan saw Russell as having a punk aesthetic that, coupled with the director’s penchant for shocking an audience, appealed to him.

“To shock on a deeper and more fundamental level, it’s just an ingredient I think is missing from our current cinematic landscape,” he said. “People are very, very afraid, so when I watched ‘The Devils,’ I was like, ‘This guy’s fearless, and I have an actor who’s fearless, so let’s just f–king go for it.’ How many opportunities do you get to go to Rome with Sydney Sweeney?”

Mohan said he never wants to make a movie that could be “in opposition” to other features, but he certainly admits there were filmic inspirations he wanted to homage with “Immaculate.” “The big difference between this film and the more modern religious horror movies is this one’s not supernatural,” he said. “[She’s] not battling a creature made out of ones and zeros at the end of the film. They’re battling something far more visceral.”

With that, Mohan utilized a lot of Italian horror films, albeit not the usual tricks of the genre. Cinematographer Elisha Christian specifically wanted to evoke Renaissance paintings. One key scene, wherein Sister Cecilia is seated in a room full of speaking men was lifted from the 1972 Italian feature, “What Have You Done to Solange?” “Just the blocking and how creative they were in terms of staging that, and how it actually mirrored what the character was feeling,” Mohan said. Other sources include 1972’s “The Red Queen Kills Seven Times” and Mario Bava’s 1971 classic “A Bay of Blood.”

“Our location, Villa Perisi, has a long legacy of Italian horror,” Mohan said. “If you go back and you watch Mario Bava’s ‘Bay of Blood,’ the opening scene is set in what we’ve turned into the commissary where they eat. It’s literally the same location. So you feel it dripping from the walls.”

“Immaculate” is in theaters March 22.

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