Written and directed by star Mark O’Brien, a burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger. Also starring: Mimi Kuzyk, Henry Czerny, Mayko Nguyen, Kate Corbett and Nigel Bennett.
Religion and horror are a classic pairing, from films like The Exorcist and The Omen to the more recent Saint Maud and The Conjuring series, belief in a larger existence brings dark possibilities. The two things go hand in hand but it’s a double-edged sword, depending on whether it provides a foundation or takes over the entire story. Typically films that go for the latter get bogged down and the horror themes can’t come through as strongly, which is something which The Righteous struggles with. It’s a solid concept that dives into death, and the devil depending on how you interpret it, taking place in one isolated location and using a gradual reveal. However, the story lacks a sincerity to drive it home, the threat and tension don’t come across strongly enough to make it work.
There is a certain presence to the story, but it falls into a few typical traps of initially feeling too obvious that something is amiss then not deepening the reveal enough to make it satisfying. Another element of that is the visual, it doesn’t entirely match the tone of the story. The choice of black and white looks great but it gives off an artistic or highbrow style which the story can’t equal. That lack of cohesion means that it can’t push the impact where it wants to go. It also plays it fairly safe with its direction, there’s an oddness or discomfort to the themes which isn’t capitalised on. It’s the type of film that you can imagine some directors would have gone full force down eery, twisted or psychological roads whereas Mark O’Brien’s style goes for something more contained and focused. It works but it doesn’t make a big impression.
Similar could be said for O’Brien’s performance, he ticks off a lot of stereotypical boxes so while it’s a good portrayal, it doesn’t provide anything unique or unexpected. Henry Czerny is a hugely reliable actor so it’s no surprise that he gives another great performance here. He brings his usual gravitas and stoic presence, which is matched well by Mimi Kuzyk’s vulnerability and frailty. The three of them work well together and quickly create an interesting dynamic. It’s enough to keep you invested, it’s just a shame that the other elements don’t then take that further.
The Righteous taps into the quintessential match of religion and horror but fails to make the most of its potential. The story hits upon a familiar style, trapped in one location and building to its crescendo but the reveal isn’t satisfying enough. It has a strong aesthetic but it’s not one that effectively matches the story, and goes for something overly safe rather than playing with the darkness it holds. The performances are well done but without the other aspects to back them up, it misses out on making a lasting impression.