Five Favorite Films

Immaculate Director Michael Mohan's Five Favorite Horror Films

Mohan shows love to some noteworthy genre classics and at least one recent hit, and talks about his own film's raucous SXSW premiere.

by | April 16, 2024 | Comments


(Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for NEON)

Director Michael Mohan acknowledges that religious horror is a huge part of the genre, with more than a few iconic entries. Adding his new film Immaculate to the pantheon means it must remain faithful to the familiar parts audiences love while still setting itself apart. This is likely why distributor Neon opted to have dozens of silent “nuns” silently walk the streets of SXSW ahead of its premiere, setting up an eerie preamble for the scary and raucous screening that followed.

“Every filmmaker dreams of one day having a screening like that. [It] was an absolute dream. The atmosphere was frightening; it almost felt like a rock concert, with people screaming and laughing at the fact that they were screaming and then cheering at the end,” Mohan told us.

Starring and produced by Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney, who basically willed the film into existence after first auditioning for it in her teens, Immaculate has been wowing critics and audiences since it first hit theaters in March. Sweeney plays a young American novitiate on a new journey to a remote convent in the Italian countryside. Shortly after her arrival, her dreams of salvation quickly become a living nightmare when she uncovers a dark plot hidden just beneath the idyllic setting.

Now available on VOD, Immaculate is a film that horror heads will feel right at home with, elevated even further by the careful direction behind the camera, the brilliant star wattage of its charismatic lead, and a leave-you-speechless ending. Read on as director Michael Mohan breaks down his Five Favorite Horror Films, which he shared with Rotten Tomatoes.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)


There’s something about Rosemary’s Baby that makes it a very intimate film. Mia Farrow is in just about every single scene, yet the film is also very cinematic.

The Vanishing (1988)


The 1988 film The Vanishing, otherwise known as Spoorloos, has an intense sense of dread that permeates the entire movie and culminates in an ending that is absolutely shocking and leaves you breathless.

What Have They Done to Solange? It’s a film in which you really feel the hand of the patriarchy. I even stole some of the blocking of that movie because of how they stage scenes, with the male characters in the frame taking over — the female characters in the frame are very small — not to mention trying to draw from a legacy of Italian horror, which is a huge influence.

The Exorcist (1973)


The Exorcist. What’s so remarkable about The Exorcist is that it still contains some of the most disturbing imagery ever committed to film, yet the storytelling is so elegant, the balance of things that are luring, coupled with beautiful things is just sort of what I naturally gravitate towards.

Barbarian (2022)


What I love about Barbarian is that it’s unafraid to use jump scares, and none of them are overly clever. They’re very simple and effective, and they don’t get in the way of the story. And so much tension builds when they’re underground in those tunnels; there are parallels to our final sequence in the Catacombs. I saw it four times in the theater. I kept bringing friends to go see it. It’s such a communal experience watching that film and being on the edge of your seat surrounded by a group of strangers. And to me, it’s the most fun, and it’s the most surprising film I’ve seen in a theater in at least a decade.

Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: Let’s talk about that SXSW Premiere, because walking out on the street to see all those nuns was crazy — so trippy. 

Micheal Mohan: I mean, it was an absolute dream, 10 out of 10, and yeah, I’m so grateful for that experience. And the nuns were just so cool. Neon really set the tone. They brought in all of those red-billed nuns. Then we had our composer, Will Bates, conducting a choir at the beginning, and so it just felt very special. Yeah, it’s going to be one of… Getting married to my wife is my favorite memory, and then the births of my two children come after that. And then this is a very close fourth.

RT: Let’s discuss the score. It also sets the tone, especially in the third act of the film. 

Mohan: I’ve worked with Will Bates on The Voyeurs, and so this is our second collaboration. What I love about Will’s score is he also records if he’s playing a church organ; he will also mic up the pedal so you can hear his foot hitting the pedal. In some of the scenes, just the pump of a church organ functions like a heartbeat, except it’s like a creaky heartbeat. He also played it like a piano in a way you shouldn’t. You’re not supposed to play it like a prepared piano, and he really f–ked up his fingers. He would scrape the piano strings with his fingernail, and that’s what you’re hearing throughout the entire movie; you are hearing the scrape of a piano string. I love working with him; he always brings something unique to it.

RT: One of the things that sets this film apart is your leading lady, Sydney Sweeney. What is it like working with her? 

Mohan: Yeah, well, she had it first. The project originated with the writer Andrew Lobel, and she auditioned for it as a teenager; the project fell apart. Then, after Euphoria season 2, her fans clamored for her to be in a horror movie. She also has a deep love of horror, so she called up the writer and resurrected the script. She’s the one who sent it to me. She was basically like, “I want to cover myself in blood.” And so I was like, “Awesome! Let’s figure this out.” And when I read the script, what really struck me was the reveal that happens in the middle of the film. I did not see it coming, and as someone who writes movies with twist endings, it takes a lot to impress me.

Immaculate is currently in theaters and available to rent or purchase on VOD.

Thumbnail images by: Getty Images

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