Who do you fear more…God or Satan? That is the question a former priest must ask himself in Mark O’Brien’s dark tale of penance and redemption in The Righteous.
The bible describes a righteous man as a person acting in accord with divine or moral law: free from guilt or sin. In other words, something almost unattainable for the average person unless you are Jesus Christ or one of his saints. Are religious leaders righteous? It all depends on choice…free will.
Shot entirely in black and white, The Righteous is a 2021 film that was written and directed by Mark O’Brien who also stars in this troubling tale. The film, which premiered at Fantasia and won the Cheval Noir for best screenplay, will be released June 3rd by Vortex Media. The film, which stars Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Mimi Kuzyk, Kate Corbett, Mayko Nguyen, and Nigel Bennett, begins with a funeral for a young child. We are not shown how the child died, we only see the grief of the parents: Frederic Mason (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk).
The child, a little girl, who we view either in flashbacks or visions, was adopted by the Masons. Their mother, Doris (Kate Corbett) is a lost soul who knows that the Masons truly loved and cared for the little girl that she was forced to give up.
Through conversations between Frederic and the neighborhood priest (Nigel Bennett) we realize that Frederic had once been a Catholic Priest who had left the church after falling in love with Ethel. It’s been done. Not every man or woman can keep to the isolation of celibacy. In fact, my sister-in-law had left the convent and her vows because she felt that the Catholic Church was not doing enough for the poor…she was right…but that is another story. Frederic wonders if God is punishing him for leaving the church. Did an angry God take his daughter? Totally distraught that his daughter’s death might be linked to a darker secret, Frederic begs God for a penance.
There is an old saying, “Beware of what you pray for.” The Mason’s period of mourning is interrupted by the arrival of an injured stranger in the middle of the night. Frederic is afraid. He and Ethel live in a remote area, but the stranger’s (Mark O’Brien) pleas for mercy finally wear down Frederic’s uneasiness. Over the next few days, this stranger slowly weasels his way into the family dynamics, but it soon becomes apparent that this young man is more than who he claims to be…and his request for Frederic has something to do with the moral crime committed before Frederic met Ethel.
Who do you fear more, God or Satan? Who decides what is or is not a sin? Frederic demanded penance, but his confessor had warned Frederic to “Be careful what you wish for but be certain what you pray for.”
I found the conversations between Frederic and Aaron, the mysterious stranger with a grudge, to be darkly intellectual with just the right amount suspense as they finally reach the reason for Aaron’s arrival through a verbal battle of wills.
Before reaching the bloody climax of The Righteous, Frederic explains to Aaron why God is to be feared more than Satan. His explanation will scare the hell out of you.
The Righteous was Mark O’Brien’s directorial debut and if his first film is this freaking good, I can’t wait to see his next film.