Actor Mark O’Brien (“City on a Hill”) makes his directorial debut with the phycological horror thriller “The Righteous” which reunites him with “Ready or Not” costar Henry Czerny who plays an ex-priest that left the Catholic church to start a family after falling in love with a woman played by Mimi Kuzyk (“Lost and Delirious”). Tragedy besets the couple beginning with the death of their young daughter followed by the arrival of an injured stranger (played by O’Brien). As often the case, grief tests faith in the beautifully shot black and white thriller that features three first-rate performances.
A film devoid of color is an intense experience. In the case of “The Righteous”, every vibrant shade of grey is saturated in sorrow. Shot in scenic Newfoundland whose beauty is diluted but lingering, the setting is an isolated country home. Frederic (Czerny) and Ethel (Kuzyk) Mason lead a quiet life, the silence surrounding the retired couple can be attributed to the loss of their young daughter who died in a tragic accident. Devout Catholics — Frederic was once a priest — whose faith remains intact; their lives are altered by the arrival of an injured stranger named Aaron (O’Brien).
Not many of us would let a stranger who can’t fully explain what happened into our home without notifying the authorities but that’s exactly what Frederic does, explaining to Ethel that it’s just for the night. Aaron’s boyish charm, good manners, and innocent appearance help the Masons feel comfortable letting him stay and before you know it Ethel takes kindly to Aaron who fills a void in her grieving heart.
Frederic and Aaron begin engaging in late-night conversations where sins of the past resurface. The tension builds leaving the audience to question, who is this stranger and what are his intentions? Czerny and O’Brien who appeared together in the 2019 horror-comedy “Ready or Not” — which premiered at the Fantasia Film Festival — are captivating to watch as they feed off each other with dialogue that blends Tennessee Williams with Rod Serling. Props to O’Brien who also wrote the screenplay.
“The Righteous” keeps its secrets buried as atonement and faith walk side by side until the film’s finale. O’Brien’s directorial debut is a character-driven film that would be at home on a stage but would lose the impact of its surreal tone. Like Abel Ferrara’s “The Addiction” and Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” the downplayed horror is heightened by the black and white cinematography.
ABOUT: The Fantasia International Film Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The cultural and professional destination point that Quentin Tarantino called, “The Most important and prestigious genre film festival on this continent” is underway in Montreal with in-person screenings and virtually at www.fantasiafestival.com. Known to attract passionate attendees whose taste in cinema falls outside the mainstream, Fantasia features distinct programming from around the world across a growing list of genres that include crime, fantasy horror, science fiction, and western. From features to shorts film showcases, panel discussions, masterclasses, and special events, FIFF is recognized as the largest and most influential event of its kind in North America.