Maggie Betts' Novitiate follows Cathleen (Magaret Qualley) as she goes down the path to become a nun. With the film set as Vatican II goes into effect, the disciplines enforced by Reverend Mother Marie Saint-Clair (Melissa Leo) are being challenged. But how will this change within the Catholic Church affect not just these two women but the others in the convent?
In a way, Novitiate bears some semblance to The Nun's Story, which is fitting seeing as Fred Zinnemann's film gets name-dropped at one point. But Betts' film is far darker than Zinnemann's. What Cathleen and the other novices endure at the hands of Mother Superior borders on outright abuse. (An early scene of this is absolutely chilling.) How often did this occur in real life?
Again, the price of one's devotion is brought up regularly in Novitiate. Cathleen adheres to the rules of the church quickly but the few times her mother Nora (the perpetually underrated Julianne Nicholson) visits her, Nora feels as if she's losing her daughter. It's more than likely that this happened in real life too.
Novitiate is a fascinating delve into how religion affects one's life, both good and bad. What's depicted is not far from that of a cult setting (though both are very different in the long run, let's get that out of the way). And again, the cost of such devotion can be immeasurable to some.
My Rating: ****1/2