Men of God are supposed to save, not kill. But what if someone committing that act is saving someone? What if the very sin of murder is the key to salvation?
The Righteous is a slow-burn character piece that looks at a situation like this. Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) are an older couple who have just lost their young daughter in an accident. Beyond the obvious trauma, Frederic – who used to be a priest until he met Ethel – is also having a crisis of faith, and believes he deserves a penance for previous sins, which comes into further focus when an injured young man named Aaron (director Mark O’Brien) appears on his property. Being the good people that they are, they take him in, and slowly things unravel when, one day, Aaron asks Frederic to kill him.
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The Righteous is an ambitious film that, in the end, is neutered by an inability to avoid genre tropes and a maddening need to make things appear as literal as possible. What happens is that what appears to be a thoughtful and provocative drama swiftly turns into a bad copy of The Exorcist, instantly killing both suspension of disbelief and dramatic tension. What happens when your interesting story is interrupted by moments of unintentional humour? Sudden death, that’s what.
The problem is that the film starts out strong. Frederic’s crisis of faith is realistic, especially in the face of losing his daughter, and Czerny puts in a fine performance. He’s equally loving towards Ethel while at the same time conveys the existence of being internally tortured, although sadly Kuzyk isn’t really given a lot to do – it would have been interesting to see her grapple with Frederic’s previous sins. O’Brien is decent as Aaron, although his southern drawl tended to remind me of another mysterious character who turned up at a door out of nowhere, John Turturro’s John Shooter in David Koepp’s Secret Window.
But where it tends to fall down is that O’Brien wants to have his cake and eat it. It’s all very serious and stark to begin with, which I appreciate; I love films like this. It’s shot in black and white with a nice crisp look by Scott McCellan, and it has an interesting, mainly string-based score by Andrew Staniland, but when weird things happen, it’s out of nowhere and it hurts it a lot, especially when the score starts to overbear a tad. It’s just odd moments that bring the supernatural into the forefront and it ruins the whole effect and starts to lose its personality, which is a shame as there are some genuinely interesting thoughts about religion.
Arrow Video has brought the film to Blu-ray with a fantastically clean and crisp transfer, with only a minor appearance of banding. The DTS HD 5.1 track is clear and immersive, and there’s also a descriptive track for people with sight issues, which is great. The disc has a fair amount of bonus features. First up is an audio commentary with director O’Brien and editor K. Spencer Jones. It’s an interesting track, although some might be put off by the jokey nature of some of it.
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There are a bunch of interviews with the cast and crew that are entertaining and informative, a couple of festival Q&As, a roundtable discussion with O’Brien and filmmaking trio Radio Silence, and maybe the best feature, an image gallery set to Staniland’s entire musical score. There is also a booklet essay by author and filmmaker Sean Hogan, but this was not submitted for review.
It’s annoying to get to this point and not recommend the film, because it is interesting to a point. But it’s just not good enough to get over that hill, and the parts that are interesting are whiffed by too much of a literal sense and C-grade supernatural scares. Which is a shame.
The Righteous is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video.