FIN REVIEW: Guilt, penance and vengeance abound in Mark O’Brien’s unsettling directorial debut

It’s first worth noting that though I’m not entirely sure what I watched last night, The Righteous left enough of an impression on me that I know I’m going to need to see it again.

If allegory and challenging filmmaking isn’t your bag, writer-director-star Mark O’Brien’s directorial debut may not strike your fancy. But for those who give this gothic thriller a chance, you’ll be floored.

We open on the funeral for a smile child, with few details about how she died and the circumstances around it. O’Brien relishes in withholding details, and part of the intrigue is the slow unfurling of revelations.

A father and mother are broken by their daughter’s death, and patriarch Frederic – a former priest – feels the death is a punishment from God for leaving the priesthood.

He prays to be punished for his sin, and not long after a stranger appears in the night. Feeling compelled to help him, Frederic and wife Ethel take him in, despite some apprehension.

What comes next is a series of conversations meditating on sin, guilt, good and evil, and a conclusion that will leave you stunned.

Henry Czerny – best known the last 15 years or so for his work on the small screen in Revenge and Sharp Objects – leaps back into a leading role with a complex, intense turn. In a film about unforgivable actions, Mimi Kuzyk provides a sympathetic character we can root for.

But it’s Mark O’Brien, who pulls triple duty here, who ultimately impresses. He’s pulling a balance act between pious and sinister here, and he is unbelievable behind the camera and in front of it.

Even if I need to sit and think about this one for a few days, it’s a masterclass in acting, cinematography and suspense, and one worth getting lost in.

4/5 Stars

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