“The Righteous,” a new supernatural thriller written, directed and starring “City on a Hill’s” Mark O’Brien, is an unsettling slow burn on redemption and retribution that asks, “What is the price of sin?”
“Be careful what you wish for. But be certain what you pray for.”
Shot in lush black and white, and set in a remote home far from the closest neighbor, the quiet of the surroundings echoes the somber lives led by Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) Mason, a married couple still stinging from the loss of their daughter.
Frederic is a pious man, a former priest who left the church, in scandal, after falling for Ethel. Their carefully calibrated lives are turned upside down when Aaron Smith (O’Brien), an injured man with good manners and a secret, shows up at their door. Lost, he needs help, aid Frederic is happy to oblige. “Where are you from?” “Everywhere,” he replies.
At first, he’s a welcome guest. Ethel warms to him, finding comfort in the presence of a young person to fill the hole in her heart. But late-night dinner table conversations between Frederic and Aaron change the nature of their relationship, leading to a combustible situation and a horrifying request.
“The Righteous” is a psychological thriller that takes its time, doling out the story’s inherent sense of menace slowly but surely. As the tension mounts, director O’Brien resists the temptation to up the action. Instead, he trusts the script and performances to bring the strange, powerful story of atonement to its conclusion.
The horror of the situation escalates courtesy of the battle of wills between Aaron and Frederic. It’s the struggle between good and evil, of faith and the secular life, propelled by a series of kitchen table conversations between Aaron and Frederic that are the jaundiced soul of this story. Beautifully performed, they are chamber pieces, enhanced by subtle but effective shifts in lighting that telegraph the changing mood, and spiritual angst, of the scenes.
A small film containing big ideas, “The Righteous” succeeds because of a clarity of direction—O’Brien knows what he wants to do in every scene—and the performances, from Czerny’s tortured gravitas and Kuzyk’s warmth to O’Brien’s enigmatic work.