A brooding occult horror with echoes of Bergman and Pasolini, The Righteous insinuates its way beneath the skin by way of an intelligent script, taut direction, and strong performances. Writer and actor Mark O’Brien (Ready or Not) pulls no punches as he confronts grief, guilt, faith and atonement in his remarkable directorial debut. A former priest, Frederic Mason (Henry Czerny), anguished by the tragic death of his young daughter, finds himself wrestling with his religious convictions when a mysterious young man (Mark O’Brien) appears wounded on his doorstep in need of assistance. After he and his wife Ethel (Mimi Kuzyk) welcome him across the threshold and into their household, Frederic sees an opportunity for redemption in this mysterious and troubled lost soul, who might just be an emissary from God, or maybe the Devil… Set amongst the bleak and forbidding landscapes of Newfoundland, crisply captured in tenebrous monochrome by cinematographer Scott McClellan, and featuring robust performances from all its cast members, The Righteous is a somber supernatural chiller that builds to a memorable crescendo, and signals the emergence of a major new filmmaking talent.
For in-depth thoughts on The Righteous, please see my colleague Michael Vaughn’ review from its Fantasia Festival debut here.
The Righteous debuts on Blu-Ray with a 1080p presentation in 2.39:1 from a high definition master that really delivers a stunning presentation. With this being such a low budget affair, it is quite impressive how much artistry is brought to the film with stunning camerawork and some sumptuous black-and-white photography. The contrast in the black-and-white photography is very stable with deep blacks and bright whites that do not veer into blooming. There is some light banding in some of the deepest blacks, but overall this is not a huge issue. Cinematographer Scott McClellan has a great eye for composition and lighting that is implemented well here. The transfer allows for a great amount of detail and clarity in the textures of the costumes and production design. Objects hold up well in the shadows and retain their depth. Overall, this is an excellent presentation that showcases the work well.
Arrow Video delivers this new Blu-Ray disc with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that gives nice life to this surprisingly robust soundscape. The dialogue is the lifeblood of the film and it holds up quite nicely, coming though crisp and clear without being trampled upon by the score or sound effects. The varied environmental effects are delineated nicely with some unsettling sounds that may or may not be in the reality of the world, along with noises from nature. The soundscape is powerful in many respects, especially when it comes to the low end providing texture to some uncertain moments. The movie is accompanied by a dread-filled score that renders with perfect fidelity here. You could not ask for a better representation of this film. Optional English (SDH) subtitles are provided on this disc.
The first-pressing of the Arrow Video Blu-Ray of The Righteous includes a booklet featuring the essay “Washed In The Blood: Spirituality In The Modern Horror Film” by writer Sean Hogan. This piece provides a great analysis of the modern horror landscape and how religion is primarily left out of mainstream in favor of “elevated” horror in independent features. The on-disc special features are as follows:
- Audio Commentary: Writer, director and actor Mark O’Brien and editor Spencer Jones provide a really entertaining commentary track that details various aspects of the production including the scenes that were trimmed down, last-minute decisions to add accents, the allusions with the character names that most people overlooked, the intention behind certain shot compositions, exploration of the themes, the intention behind the sound design and more. There is a very jovial spirit between the two which lends itself to a lot of joking that keeps the track entertaining.
- Cast & Crew Interviews
- Mark O’Brien (Director/Actor/Writer): A 34-minute piece in which he discusses his background as an actor and filmmaker, what sparked the idea for this film, the appeal of genre filmmaking, his role in the film and the influences he drew from for his performance, the casting process, the importance of the location, his reason for shooting in black-and-white, stressful moments with weather, the reception to the film and more.
- Mark O’Neill (Producer): A 7-minute piece in which he discusses his background, how he became involved with O’Brien and the project, what he responded to in the script, the actual process of putting the production together, his favorite scenes, his hopes for the film and more.
- Henry Czerny (Actor): A 17-minute piece in which he discuss what drew him to the script, his friendship with O’Brien and being approached to be in the film, his character and the intimacy he felt necessary for the role, the brief shooting schedule, the influences of Dreyer and Bergman, his relationship with the other performers, his thoughts on the film and more.
- Mimi Kuzyk & Kate Corbett (Actors): A 17-minute piece in which they discuss their initial reaction to the material, the benefit of having time to inhabit their characters, what O’Brien was like as a director, the lovable nature of Henry Czerny, shooting in Newfoundland, the background of the character of Doris, the vibe of the set during emotionally charged scenes, the experience of watching the film for the first time and more.
- Spencer Jones (Editor): A 11-minute piece in which he discusses his approach to the film, his background as an editor, his relationship with O’Brien, influences that were brought to the editing process, maintaining the pacing of the film and keeping audiences riveted during the dialogue-driven scenes, working with the sound and the score, and much more.
- Scott McClellan (Cinematographer): A 10-minute piece in which he discusses the experience of shooting in black-and-white, the limitations and freedoms it afforded him, working with O’Brien, shooting in Newfoundland, his hopes for the film, and more.
- Jason Clarke (Production Designer): A nearly 10-minute piece in which he discusses how shooting in black-and-white impacted his process, what stood out about the particular house they were using during production, the huge influence of Night of the Hunter, wanting to control the image, his biggest takeaways from the film, working within a restricted budget and more.
- Grimmfest Q&A with Mark O’Brien: A 20-minute live-streamed Q&A from the UK premiere in which O’Brien discusses why he cast himself in one of the three lead roles, the influences he brought to the project, the weaving of different genres, the role of guilt and ambiguity, the process of getting the film made, his approach to filmmaking, and more.
- Fantasia 2021 Stage Presentation and Q&A: A 33-minute on-stage conversation with Mark O’Brien and Henry Czerny in which they discuss the larger ideas for the film, the slow burn nature of getting to the truth of the characters and the performances, wanting to create a story out of time and place, shooting with a limited budget, and more. This is a bit of a frustrating experience because Czerny rarely remembers to use his microphone.
- Radio Silent Roundtable: A 73-minute discussion between Mark O’Brien and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett and Chad Villella of Radio Silence, who all worked together on Ready Or Not. In this expansive piece, the group has a very lively discussion about film at large (including an amusing discussion of Mother!) along with their experience making art themselves. This is such a joy to watch, as you feel as if you are just getting to observe a bunch of friends excitedly discuss movies.
- Theatrical Trailer: A two-minute trailer for the film is provided here.
- Original Soundtrack & Stills: A 65-minute piece where you can listen to the score from the film over behind-the-scenes images from the production.
The Righteous is a really strong directorial debut from Mark O’Brien that feels deeply influenced by works from past masters while having some fresh ground to cover himself. There are some small missteps within the narrative, but largely the story keeps you riveted with its examination of faith, guilt and ego. Henry Czerny delivers one of his greatest performances alongside an ensemble who matches his quiet intensity capably. It will be exciting to keep track of the trajectory of O’Brien after this impressive introduction as a filmmaker. Arrow Video has released a Blu-Ray that provides a stellar A/V presentation and a spectacular array of special features that only enhance your appreciation for the film. If you are looking for an unsettling religious drama, check this one out. Recommended
The Righteous is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.