Fantasia 2021 Review: THE RIGHTEOUS

Written and directed by and starring Mark O’Brien, this haunting psychological horror film deals with guilt (particularly Catholic guilt) and how that feeling can eat away at one’s soul. Henry Czerny stars as Frederic Mason, an ex-priest who lives with his beloved wife Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) in a quiet and mostly uneventful life away from the hustle and bustle of mainstream society. Federic, however, has never been completely happy ever since leaving the priesthood. He has always been haunted by some of his sins of the past and often feels cursed, as his new life has offered him mostly heartache and tragedy.

Recently, Frederic and Ethel suffered a massive tragedy with the death of their adopted daughter. As the two continue to deal with the grief of this loss, a mysterious stranger enters their lives. On one particularly dark night, Frederic discovers an injured and lost man named Aaron on his property. Though he doesn’t completely trust him, Frederic feels that he should take him in and offer him assistance. As Frederic and Ethel get to know him, they feel they can trust the poor, unfortunate soul and allow him to stay in their home until better. Aaron eventually reveals that he represents the wrath of God and that he is there to collect the debt that is owed by Frederic.

Mark O’Brien has made a truly remarkable film with The Righteous. The film offers audiences a compelling and utterly unnerving and often disturbing character study in Frederic as he wrestles with his demons, guilt, and problems of faith. O’Brien has not only written a fantastic script, he also shows some impressive skills as a director with his presentation of this dark and forboding tale. Working with cinematographer Scot McClellan, the film looks amazing in stark black and white, which feels absolutely perfect, given the themes and subject matter of the story.

As well written as it is and as extraordinary as the cast performances are, the movie shows that this story and script could make for an amazing stage play. The film features phenomenal performances by Mimi Kuzyk, Henry Czerny, Mark O’Brien, Kate Corbett, and Nigel Bennett. I cannot honestly see anyone else portraying these roles, and if it were to be adapted for the stage on Broadway, I would just love to see these people reprise their roles.

The Righteous is definitely not feel good material and not popcorn, escapist cinema, but it is certainly a powerful piece of cinema that deserves much respect and admiration. I would love to see more work from Mark O’Brien as a writer/director and hope that this movie leads to more work behind the camera.

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