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Film: The Righteous
Director: Mark O’Brien
Writer: Mark O’Brien
Starring: Henry Czerny, Mimi Kuzyk and Mark O’Brien
This is a movie that I got turned on to thanks to Duncan from the Podcast Under the Stairs. It went on a list of movies that were released in 2022 that I wanted to check out when compiling my end of year list. I knew that he enjoyed it and what he said ticked boxes for me. There has been time in between so I didn’t remember what he said about this though. I came into this one blind aside from what I’ve said.
Synopsis: a burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger.
We start this at the funeral of a little girl, Joanie (Briar-Rose Stone). She was adopted by Frederic (Henry Czerny) and his wife Ethel Mason (Mimi Kuzyk). Joanie’s mother wasn’t prepared to take care of her and she is Doris (Kate Corbett). It worked out where Frederic and Ethel could raise her as well as having Doris be part of her life. This is rocked though when she was killed in a hit and run while riding her bicycle.
To give a bit more background, Frederic is a former Catholic priest. Father Graham (Nigel Bennett) is worried about him and wonders if returning to the faith would be good for him. Frederic seems to have lost that faith though. This is partially why he left. The other is that he met Ethel, or at least that is what I’m gathering. These two try to grieve over the death of the girl.
This gets rocked though when Frederic hears a male screaming in the night. He goes outside to investigate and Aaron Smith (Mark O’Brien) stumbles into the backyard. His foot is injured. When Frederic asks what happened, how he got there or where he was going. Being that our lead is a good man, he allows him inside to tend his injury. Ethel is at first leery, but soon she loves having him around. Frederic is disarmed at first. The more he gets to know him though, the more he is taken aback. This is the just the beginning of the nightmare and the ultimate decision for Frederic.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap as well as introducing the characters. Where I want to start would be that I’m guessing this was made during the pandemic. We only have a cast of seven characters. There are never more than a few of them together, so that would make sense. This is also a simple enough story. What is interesting about it though is that there are layers to it that get revealed as things go on. Frederic is harboring a secret that no one knows except that it seems that Aaron does. It also might not be a coincidence that he shows up here like he did. There are also religious and supernatural elements that could be involved to complicate things further.
Now that I’ve given that overview, I want start with delving into Frederic. He is a complicated character. He’s a former priest who is now married. We learn there was an incident when he was younger. With that as well as wanting to marry Ethel, he either wasn’t as devout or he was just not as strong in his faith as he would like us to believe. None of this is bad though. He made a poor decision. It went against what he is supposed to do in that position. That makes it an issue since he is ‘abusing’ his position. Outside of that though, it isn’t a mortal sin. I also can’t blame Aaron either. He has a right to be mad. This develops to make Frederic such a dense character with multiple dimensions. I should also give credit to Czerny. His performance brings it to life.
Where I want to then go would be if this is supernatural or not as well as the character of Aaron. I didn’t know if this was going to be a horror film when it starts. We see the outcome of this tragedy. Then Aaron shows up. It is mysterious how he gets there and he is suspicious in the sense that he doesn’t answer Frederic’s questions directly. He also words his responses in a way to make Frederic pity him as well as to be able to stay. The whole time saying though that he can leave.
Now none of this is in line with what I said I was going to go into. Aaron knows things that he shouldn’t. Is this because he lived them? Or was he given information through a higher power? I got vibes that if this is supernatural, then Frederic is forced to atone for his sins and is in line with the biblical story of Job. Frederic has things taken from him and must decide to give in or not. He’s faced with a horrible decision that makes him question his faith even further. Is it God? It is Satan? Also, what happens at the end. Is it happening like he thinks or finally been broken by this ordeal? I like that this is ambiguous to allow us to make a choice. To give mine, I think that what Aaron is saying is real. Religion plays into it in my opinion as well.
I don’t think there is more I need to go into for the story so I’ll go over the other performances. I’ve said how good Czerny was already. Kuzyk is solid as his wife. She disappears though for stretches here. It isn’t a bad thing though as she isn’t being ‘punished’ outside of losing Joanie as well. O’Brien though is excellent. What is interesting is that this is a character study of Frederic. The one forcing him to come to terms is Aaron. What is interesting is how they develop this character is that we feel sorry for him while also not trusting him. By the end, we see that he is a villain. Not fully though. This made complicated character which is excellent. Other than that, I’d say the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then the last things to go into would be with the filmmaking. I’d say that this is well made. This is filmed in black and white. Sometimes that can come off as pretentious. I think that it adds something here. I forgot that it was to be honest as it just felt natural. What is interesting there is that I almost feel like you could correlate how the Masons are feeling due to the tragedy. This isn’t a movie that needs effects outside of the ending. That is fine, especially since we aren’t entirely sure if that is real or not. Other than that, the soundtrack fit for what was needed.
In conclusion, I’m glad that I watched this and didn’t sleep on it. It won’t be for everyone; I should establish that. This is a minimal story. There are layers to it that get revealed as things go on. The writing is well done to set up complex characters. Our ‘hero’ has a past and our villain isn’t completely wrong. The acting helps to bring these characters to life. I also think this is a well-made movie from the cinematography to the soundtrack. Not a great movie, which should be said. I would recommend it though if you like a contained, character study. I mean that for horror and non-horror fans alike.
My Rating: 8 out of 10