The Righteous is an enthralling psychological thriller by Mark O’Brien that explores the concept of religion and the meaning of sin through a low budget lens.
Religion can exist for some as a form of control for ourselves and a form of personal comfort of what we don’t understand. What happens when we reach the end of our lives is a question that can keep a person up at night and the unknown answer to it is a scary thought to have. That’s why there’s comfort in the idea that living a good and moral life means that what lies beyond for us is only paradise and peace. However, this is only one interpretation we have. For many, God is a forgiving and kind spirit but for others, he is a vengeful and angry being. In The Righteous, we view a world where the latter reigns supreme.
The film follows Frederic (Henry Czerny), an ex-priest who suffers a devastating loss and finds himself at odds with himself. Despite no longer being a priest due to his relationship with his wife, Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), both share a deep devotion to their Catholic faith. One night, a young man named Aaron (Mark O’Brien) stumbles upon their doorstep in an injured and frantic state. As he’s welcomed into Frederic and Ethel’s home, he begins to craft a close relationship with them which slowly turns sinister when Aaron’s true intentions come to light.
From the outset, The Righteous creates an immensely overwhelming atmosphere. Andrew Staniland lends a score to the film that’s unnerving and consistent with the dark black and white imagery that is created by cinematographer Scott McClellan which creates a world that feels empty and almost purgatory like in its design. There’s not many locations in The Righteous as it mostly centers itself around one house for much of its runtime. However, the oppressive imagery and music help create a piece that feels far bigger than it looks on the surface. As the film continues and the outside space around the film’s central location becomes darker and darker, it creates an almost entirely new world and reality that is much like our own but at its most haunting and fearful moments. A world that is ruled by a God we can’t see but we’re not entirely sure we would want to.
As the writer, director, producer and one of the three lead actors, Mark O’Brien has a lot on his plate to work through in the film. The Righteous is in many ways, a showcase of sorts for the actor’s abilities both behind and in front of the camera. The script features many monologues from each of its three lead actors that are all performed beautifully and directed with an intentional and clever sense of technical quietness behind the camera. During one of the monologues near the end of the film that’s delivered by O’Brien’s character, the lighting around him darkens and envelops you in a trance as the camera remains static and almost remains trapped in the scene. Despite having a low budget as seen in its use of locations and small cast, O’Brien manages these usual shortcomings for independent films by creating a strong script that provides enough meat for himself and the rest of the cast around him to chew on and provide strong performances. Henry Czerny gives a deeply engaging performance as a priest consumed by guilt and fear of what’s next for him, while Mimi Kuzyk provides the beating heart of the film as a deeply sympathetic and relatable character who grieves a loss and holds a deeply romantic view of her husband and her religion despite her losses and pain.
The Righteous works best as a deeply haunting and playful psychological thriller that gives you all the pieces to make your own conclusion. Although the ending struggles to nail the landing as it tries to do more telling instead of showing, the film comes together as a pretty remarkable debut that explores religious horror in the most profoundly human way it can. Mark O’Brien enters the filmmaking scene with a major statement to make and it’s one that cements as a director to watch in the coming years.
The Righteous will be released on ARROW in the US, UK and EIRE on June 10, 2022.