Grief and guilt are often intertwined but not necessarily in the ways we expect. In The Righteous, the first feature from Canadian actor and now writer and director Mark O’Brien, guilt is met with a crisis of faith, and the results are dire.
As the film opens, Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) are grieving the loss of their young daughter. They are an older couple, and Frederic had previously left his calling as a priest to raise his family, and the loss has devastated him. Then, one night, a young stranger (Mark O’Brien) happens upon their doorstep, wounded and seeking help, and proceeds to upend their entire life. What follows is a collision of faith and guilt, and the of the characters present and past.
If that sounds vague, that’s because it is, and while you may be able to guess some of the details (such as Frederic’s not so innocent past), the journey to get there is one best experienced as cold as possible.
If you’ve followed my writing, then you already know that I have a predisposition to liking films that feel like they are plays, and this film very definitely feels like it could have been a plan. Long stretches of the film are simply blocked scenes with Henry Czerny and Mark O’Brien speaking with one another, and each of these scenes is gripping.
Czerny is one of our more underrated actors, frequently showing up in films and series in supporting roles and running away with every scene he is in. Seeing him in the lead once again is lovely, especially in scenes that require what you might call capital-A acting. Mark O’Brien, already a promising up and comer, cements his status as someone to watch not only because of the performance here but because of his script and direction as well.
Last but certainly not least, character actress Mimi Kuzyk is excellent as Ethel. While she doesn’t have as much screen time as Czerny or O’Brien, her role is no less meaty. It requires her to react to the story’s circumstances, which of course, escalate, and she keeps everything genuine, believable, and relatable throughout.
In addition to the performances here, the other thing to consider if the production design; each frame is rich with the type of detail you’d see in an older relatives rural house, and the choice to film the whole thing in a rich black and white palette makes every detail pop off the screen in ways you might not expect.
The Righteous is an exciting debut feature, a slow-burn character study with excellent performances to keep it moving and brilliant aesthetics. The tone and pace are deliberate and well defined, and those viewers who will connect with this one will connect with it profoundly.
The Righteous premiered in person today, August 15th and will screen virtually on August 18th at 6 pm pacific / 9 pm eastern for Canadian audiences as part of the Fantasia Film Festival.
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