The Righteous tells the story of a peculiar stranger that visits the home of a former priest and his wife. The priest had left the church in the hopes of starting a family, only to have tragedy strike when his young daughter is killed. The lonely couple are content but plagued with the grief of what was lost. When a young stranger arrives, the man and woman give him shelter. What follows is a series of unexpected turns and a twist of the knife in exposing the real cause of the priest’s loss of faith. Sins are laid bare.
Mark O’Brien makes an impressive filmmaking debut as writer, director and star of The Righteous alongside Henry Czerny (Ready Or Not) and Mimi Kuzyk.
With its rich, black and white cinematography and haunting design The Righteous is an exercise in atmosphere. The film’s moody aesthetic and shadowy presence makes for the perfect illustration of the tragedy and horror that unfolds. With an emphasis on character and performance, the overall impression of The Righteous is similar to a stage play. Every shot and expression is done with weighted intent and maximum drama.
While The Righteous is certainly a looker, the juiciest bits of this film come through the performances. Again, the similarity can be drawn to a new-age drama held at an intimate venue. These characters convey history and heartache and the burden of life’s trials through subtle, but powerful performances. Narratively, The Righteous plays some familiar tunes. After a few small, but key character reveals, the full picture of the film comes together clearly. What The Righteous lacks in mystery, it makes up for in excellent writing and the visuals to elevate that writing to greater heights.
The Righteous targets sin, religious corruption, and the deconstruction of faith in its storytelling. The film bathes in torment. The tension of guilt, the danger of a vengeful stranger, and the underlying heat of forever torment – an undercurrent felt by all characters.
Where The Righteous may lose its audience is in its pacing. In the fashion of a high drama, The Righteous luxuriates in the agony of a slow, slow burn. When factoring in the tension and atmospheric work in the film, the slow pace is acceptable if not fully embraced. That being said, once viewers have guessed the ending the long haul runs the risk of losing some. Not a fatal flaw, but a line in the sand for viewers.
The Righteous is horror of the most elegant sort. The film fests on the strong foundation of its actors, but it is the bold and stylish execution that really makes it an essential watch. The Righteous will not cast a wide net of universal appeal, but for the devout it’s divine.
Movie Score: 3/5
[The Righteous held its World Premiere on August 15 at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, with a second screening scheduled for August 18.]