THE RIGHTEOUS movie poster | ©2022 Arrow Films

THE RIGHTEOUS movie poster | ©2022 Arrow Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Henry Czerny, Mimi Kuzyk, Mark O’Brien, Mayko Nguyen, Kate Corbett, Nigel Bennett
Writer: Mark O’Brien
Director: Mark O’Brien
Distributor: Arrow Films
Release Date: June 10, 2022

THE RIGHTEOUS deals with religion and has tinges of the possibly supernatural. Mostly, though, it is a Gothic thriller in which guilt and belief about the nature of repentance and punishment loom large.

Henry Czerny plays Frederic Mason, who we meet as he is praying earnestly to God to make it clear to him what his penance should be for sins we do not yet know.

From the way Frederic is dressed and conducts himself, we first assume that he is a priest. In fact, Frederic is a former priest, now married to Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk). They are mourning the loss of their young daughter, Joanie.

Although their grief is profound, Frederic and Ethel love one another and find solace in their togetherness.

One night, a young man, Aaron, played by the film’s writer/director Mark O’Brien, shows up in front of the Masons’ relatively isolated home. Aaron seems to have a leg injury and claims he got lost on the way to meet up with a friend.

At first, Ethel is suspicious, but Frederic feels compelled to help the stranger. Then Ethel becomes more accepting at the same time Frederic starts having doubts. What exactly is Aaron doing here, and what does he want?

Filmmaker O’Brien gives THE RIGHTEOUS a sense of timelessness, although reference to a cell phone puts us in the present. Scott McClellan’s gorgeous, perfectly shadowed black-and-white photography and Jason Clarke’s production design put us in mind of something that might have been made in the ‘50s or ‘60s.

As a filmmaker, O’Brien keeps us guessing as to exactly where this is all going for quite a while. At the same time, he keeps the emotional journey going for the characters, so that suspense and tension are allowed to build. Puzzle pieces are revealed one by one, so that we make connections when we’re meant to and not before. In this respect, THE RIGHTEOUS works brilliantly.

THE RIGHTEOUS is one of those movies that wants to play with whether something overtly unearthly is occurring, or whether someone is experiencing convincing delusions, or perhaps two people are locked in a tightening folie a deux.

This is a rare instance where, logically, we want the phantasmic touches to be products of a shame-and-misery-wracked imagination. If not, then the primary female characters are pawns and prizes, with no apparent purpose of their own. Whatever is actually going on in THE RIGHTEOUS, O’Brien has created a mechanism for dialogue on the subject; he could have used it for some clarity here.

Czerny and Kuzyk both give heartfelt performances, and O’Brien has cast himself well as the multi-layered Aaron. Kate Corbett is increasingly affecting as a self-deprecating neighbor with her own problems, and Nigel Bennett is thoughtful as Frederic’s friend who is still a priest.

THE RIGHTEOUS may set up a few more philosophical arguments than intended – and it intends to set up plenty in the first place – but it works both as a dark narrative and as a beautifully-made homage to films of the past.

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