Fantasia 2021: THE RIGHTEOUS is a Character Piece Full of Dark Fury

A highly noteworthy feature directing debut.

For years, I have been enamored by actor Mark O’Brien. Besides having a very hypnotic face, there always seemed to be a genuine ferocity lurking internally that was waiting for the actor to find the right project which would allow him to unleash it. Finally, after years of standing out in such acclaimed and embraced projects like Arrival and Ready or Not, O’Brien takes a lead role in The Righteous, a dark tale of fractured humans and the souls that possess them, which debuted at this year’s Fantasia Fest. Besides starring in the film, the actor has also ventured behind the camera as the writer and director, showing his multitude of talents in this spellbinding feature directing debut.

Taking place in a small town in the middle of nowhere, The Righteous tells the story of a former minister named Frederic (Henry Czerney) and his wife Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk), who are in mourning over the loss of their young daughter. One night, a mysterious stranger named Aaron (O’Brien) turns up at their home. Lost and injured, the couple take Aaron in and soon find him integrating himself into their lives and forcing them to face their dark pasts.

The Righteous has a premise that’s been told numerous times, but nonetheless remains appealing; a mysterious stranger enters the world of people who, to put it mildly, aren’t living their best lives. Through a series of exchanges and turns, the said people (in this case, Frederic and Ethel) find their lives uprooted and before you know it, no one is who they were at the start of the film. O’Brien is clearly a fan of this subgenre of cinema and wastes no time delving into the kind of potential which can be drawn from it. Regret follows revelation with each scene as we see Czerny, Kuzyk and O’Brien each expertly guide their characters through some pretty heady and heavy territory. The Righteous makes good on its chamber piece setup and gives each scene plenty of the kind of power its characters and motifs deserve. However, with themes of guilt, atonement and redemption (among a slew of others) packed into the dense screenplay, The Righteous could have done with a longer runtime in order to expand on the ideas it presents and its characters’ relationships with them. Still, The Righteous is a stunning festival find and a great feature film calling card for O’Brien as a director.

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