By: Brendan Graham
Guilt is far more haunting than any ghost you could imagine. Grief, sorrow, despair, and deception are much darker entities that can do much more harm to a person. Would a loving God allow horrible things to happen? If a personal tragedy is enough to shake your faith, was it strong enough to begin with? THE RIGHTEOUS intends to take you on a journey to find answers to those questions, and fill you with dread along the way, even if it can’t quite keep it together at the end.
In Mark O’Brien’s (star of Ready or Not) black and white psychological thriller, we are introduced to Frederic (Henry Czenery, also from Ready or Not) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), an older couple crippled by the loss of their adopted daughter. Frederic is a former priest who is struggling with his relationship with God, when a mysterious man named Aaron (O’Brien) shows up injured on the property. Upon rescuing this man and bringing him inside, the couple tends to his injuries, all the while trying to learn more about who he is. They allow him to stay the night. Over the course of his stay, Frederic begins to doubt his stories, and wonders who Aaron really is, and why he found his way to their home. Was it by accident? Or is there a dark purpose to Aaron’s arrival?
The first thing viewers will notice, of course, is the film is shown in black and white. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. The lighting and use of shadows play into the mysterious elements of the building story, but also add to the intensity and anxiety we are put through as an audience. The film begins simply enough, but quickly grabs your attention, and rarely lets go. The performances in this film are fantastic, especially from Czerny and O’Brien, who comprise most of the runtime, and boy, do they absolutely make great use of that time.
As their relationship gets established, O’Brien’s character shifts from a simple, polite young man to something more unsettling that will absolutely get under your skin. The performance is that good. Frederic as a character isn’t the usual priest who lost their faith approach, and I appreciated the uniqueness in which his character is developed, even if I often found myself questioning his choices. Seeing him begin as a grieving father who is trying his best to hide his grief, to becoming a flawed man now hiding sins, was a stark character contrast that was handled quite well.
What makes THE RIGHTEOUS effective is the build-up of tension, where playful moments turn into something more menacing and dark at the drop of a hat. Towards the end of the film, you begin to not feel safe around Aaron, and THE RIGHTEOUS makes great use of timing and emotion to really drill uncomfortable unease into the viewer. This makes the ending of the film a bit of a disappointment for me, with how predictable and uninspired it feels. The climax leaves more questions than answers, and I do believe they wanted the viewer to interpret how they see the ending, and whether or not what was happening was real. Anything said beyond that may go into spoiler territory. Some viewers may feel like THE RIGHTEOUS is more drama/thriller than horror, but I honestly found the subject matter and presentation to be in the horror wheelhouse.
Despite feeling a bit let down from the ending, I still found THE RIGHTEOUS to be worthy of a viewing. The film is well shot, well-acted, and haunting enough to be memorable. It’s refreshing to me that black and white is still alive and well in the film world, and I hope to see the noir approach used much more with horror. Mark O’Brien is a very talented filmmaker and actor, and I look forward to seeing what he does next.
THE RIGHTEOUS will be available to stream through ARROW FILMS on June 10th, and will also be available on Blu-ray/DVD on July 19th.