(Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Mimi Kudzyk, et. Al | 1 hr. 37 min | R | Panoramic Pictures)
Summary: When a troubled man prays for punishment, he gets more than he bargained for when an injured young man shows up on his property.
Verdict: Indie suspense film The Righteous opens with a lot of promise: White light condenses down into a spotlight in which a man stands, praying a fervent prayer of confession. Moments later, the praying man is revealed to be not only the father of a dead girl, but also a priest that has faltered in his faith and walked away from the priesthood. He even goes as far to question if this is the worst thing that could possibly happen and to pray for punishment for unconfessed sins.
To this end, the film starts out seeming predictable; that some Big Thing is on the horizon that will be the crucible that will ultimately lead Frederick back to God. But fortunately, this is merely the beginning.
The whole of the film takes place on the property owned by Frederick and his wife, Ethel. They are each in their own way unlikeable. Frederick doesn’t have much to say (a fact that doesn’t serve Henry Czerny well as the lead for the first third of the film), and Ethel seems cold.
But then again, you can’t necessarily blame either one of them for being cold or quiet, as each is working through the untimely death of their adopted daughter, Joanie. It’s also known that Frederick has been prone to “lapses of memory,” and seems to occasionally see visions of his little girl. But inexplicably, these visions go nowhere.
Things get weird when Frederick and Ethel are paid a visit on the same night by two separate visitors: Their much more likable family friend Doris, who is battling some issues of her own, and an injured young man named Aaron (Mark O’Brien). It is the latter of the two on which the film hinges, and when Frederick and Ethel take Aaron in for the night and, after a conversation about (tragic) backstories, Aaron collapses and begs Frederick to save him.
Ominous, isn’t it?
The next morning, Frederick awakes to find Ethel having completely gotten over the suspicions she’d had about Aaron, deciding that she wants him to stay. It’s nice to see Mimi Kudzyk’s Ethel have reason to smile, but Frederick isn’t entirely sold on Aaron sticking around, especially after the odd conversation they’d had the night before.
The heartfelt speech that Ethel gives about filling gaps and the right people coming along just when you need them would go a long way toward making this film the nicer, homey family drama than the meandering, extra-large Twilight Zone episode it is.
The final act of the film is the meat of it all, in which Aaron claims to be the manifestation of Frederick’s long-forgotten lovechild with a bit of a demonic twist. It is here that writer-director Mark O’Brien steps out as the shining star of the whole thing as he and Czerny trade tense quips to one another about things like love and mercy and punishment and God’s justice.
The last thirty minutes of the film beg to be watched rather than explained, so that the viewer might decide for themselves if they were able to make sense of the wandering dialogue and plot points that look and feel like red herrings. The high point of The Righteous —apart from Mark O’Brien playing Aaron as half southern gentleman, half dubious entity after whom death seems to follow — is the fact that the film is shot in black and white. Having that element adds to the sensation that the film works so hard to facilitate.
There is also a very nice callback montage that happens at the film’s climax, and it goes a long way toward lending believability to what is being played out in that moment.
And while viewers probably shouldn’t look to The Righteous for any sort of sound theological wisdom, a remark from another priest may well ring true: “Be careful what you wish for and be certain what you pray for.”
Review by: Ashley J. Cicotte
The Righteous is available to stream on VOD.