He a man of the cloth and she a widow, ten years ago he gave it all up to be with her, keeping his faith and taking her hand in marriage but handing in his cassock. They adopted a daughter who now lies in a wooden box in front of a sparse congregation dressed for mourning while the words of the preacher in the pulpit offer little comfort, Frederic questioning the choices which brought him here, asking – “You think God took our daughter away as a way of telling me to be a priest again?”
Ethel shattered, unable to process or articulate what has happened, she is civil when the child’s birth mother visits to awkwardly pay her respects, unsure what to say and babbling, but she cannot cope with outsiders. Needing to be alone with her thoughts and her husband in their private grief, that is not to be when a stranger arrives at the homestead in the night, lost, injured and seeking shelter: as is the expectation of a good Christian and a good Samaritan, Frederic opens the door to the darkness and allows the man entry.
A chamber piece of regret and recrimination filmed in minimalist monochrome, of judgement and accusation in an isolated farmhouse filled with bleak unbreakable sadness, The Righteous is written and directed by Mark O’Brien who also stars as the mysterious Aaron Smith, telling stories of his family and past then swiftly recanting them so it is never certain what is truth and what is not; is he a chance of spiritual redemption or evil incarnate, a prince of lies come a-knocking?
His feelings and his past locked away as firmly as his dead daughter’s bedroom, boards nailed across the door, Ready or Not’s Henry Czerny is Frederic Mason and balancing him is Astronaut’s Mimi Kuzyk as Ethel, initially apprehensive of Aaron but then charmed and eventually besotted with him, inviting him to move into the empty room even as Frederic becomes more alarmed by the directness of his questioning and a request which he cannot entertain.
Intelligently written and built around the performances of the central trio, The Righteous offers servings of both brimstone and treacle, Frederic’s faith ruthlessly cross-examined by the angel-faced intruder as he tries to cling to impossible ideals contrary to the human nature, forced into belated confession of transgressions he thought buried, seeds sown in his youth now grown to a malformed crop filled with the bitter aftertaste of barren and loveless soil.
“Be careful what you wish for but be certain what you pray for” is the counsel given by Father Graham (Forever Knight’s Nigel Bennett), predictably too late to be of help with the enemy already sat at the kitchen table and sleeping on the sofa, The Righteous chipping away at the cornerstones of religion, the empty promises and platitudes and the hypocrisy of those who espouse them, a grim lesson of the real world rather than the good book.