Fantasia Film Festival 2021: The Righteous (2021)

The Righteous (2021)

Director (and writer): Mark O’Brien

Cast: Henry Czerny, Mark O’Brien, Mimi Kuzyk, Mayka Nguyen, Kate Corbett, Nigel Bennett

A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger. – IMDB

The Righteous is a 2021 Canadian occult horror film which films in Newfoundland and uses a black and white cinematography in this full-length feature film from Mark O’Brien where he also writes the script and assumes one of the leading roles as well. The film takes place in a single setting and crafts a horror thriller that looks at a couple who is dealing with their grief after they lose their daughter but also the father who is an ex-priest struggling with his faith while having to dealing with a young stranger that brings on its own conflicts.

The Righteous keeps itself dialed down to its basics as it keeps the setting and other factors fairly simple but focuses on creating a small cast of three well-crafted characters to discover. Nothing is quite twisted and horror-filled than a mysterious individual with unknown intentions busting into someone’s life. While the stranger’s background revolves around a few  obvious possibilities and even the little tricks to get himself where he needs to be seems easily deductible, there is still more than meets the eye. Mark O’Brien delivers a great performance as the stranger Aaron who comes back with a solid plan. The character is also conflicted, cryptic and even a tad sad as his story unfolds. While Aaron is a little odd right from the start, as his motive becomes clear for his appearance in this specific location, his character is the most straight-forward. Aaron also is rather unsettling as there is a certain imbalance to his character especially as he requests something unthinkable of Frederick.

The main character is Frederick, played by Henry Czerny, who is an ex-priest after leaving the church to have a family and has suffered this loss. His character is the main one as both of the other 2 or 3 revolve around his as he is the one that goes through this grief and most importantly, the questioning of faith as he reflects on this all due to his own past sins catching up to him. Henry Czerny portrays this character really well, making Frederick rather engaging to watch as his life gets further conflicted. The script gives his character a decent back story from his connection to his wife Ethel to a look at his past which builds up this character in full. Much like Ethel, played by Mimi Kuzyk who might not have as strong a role in general but as a supporting character, she does a great job.

Overall, The Righteous is a well-structured and well-scripted horror thriller that builds its mystery very well and paces the film decently building the tension gradually. The Righteous is its best with the basic elements so that the focus of the film is on these well-developed characters. While black and white cinematography does work exceptionally well here, the film also has some visually appealing moments from the dream sequences that are done really well and adds to either the story or the mystery. The layers of the story and characters in The Righteous make this one well worth a watch.

*The Righteous had its world premiere at Fantasia Film Festival on August 15th and will have an encore virtual screening on August 18th at 9pm. More info HERE.*

Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Hellbender (2021)

Hellbender (2021)

Directors (and writers): John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser

Cast: Zelda Adams, Toby Poser, Lulu Adams, John Adams, Rinzin Thonden

A lonely teen discovers her family’s ties to witchcraft. – IMDB

Suitably after watching a folk horror documentary, Hellbender is the next movie on the Fantasia Festival rundown. Hellbender is a 2021 horror coming of age film following Izzy, a lonely and isolated teenager who lives with her mother in the mountains where they have a two person band H6llb6nd6r and keep to themselves as Izzy is said to have an illness where she can’t be around others since the age of five. However, Izzy wanders out and meets a new friend that introduces her to others and as she breaks from norms, it awakens something in her.

Following 2019’s The Deeper You Dig (which I unfortunately missed), Hellbender is the second film by the Adams Family. This is not a pure horror as it isn’t exactly the typical sort of scary but rather its imagery is can be fairly eerie and unsettling as the witchcraft and occult elements of the film slowly appear. This is a rather fresh take of witchcraft in horror as it takes the angle of a mother trying to protect her daughter and yet, it quickly becomes apparent that things are absolutely not what it seems. The setting itself also adds to the feeling of isolation and loneliness albeit its beautiful scenery in the mountainous area that they reside. It further emphasizes on the whole concept they keep mentioning about the cycle of seasons. Whether in terms of imagery or sound design, Hellbender has a lot of elements that give it a haunting feeling.

Hellbender isn’t completely a horror film though. It has many elements of a coming-of-age as Izzy slowly breaks out of lonely and isolate routine and learns about the witchcraft that runs in her family from her mother. As she discovers more about her own powers and possibly emphasizing why her mother decided to keep her away from others to protect her daughter but also everyone else, the growth of Izzy’s character is a fascinating one as all comes crashing into a fantastic ending that isn’t just visually atmospheric but also incredibly exhilarating to watch. Coming-of-age comes with its own tensions and in terms of the mother-daughter relationship, there is a sense of change throughout.

Hellbender is a rather unique horror film revolving around the occult and witchcraft. The story blends different elements together that makes it both a visually atmospheric film but also a decently fun watch. There are some slight pacing issues mostly with its middle act which seems to a drag a little bit however, the film starts and ends in an absolutely engaging way. Aside from the sound design mentioned above, Hellbender also has a great soundtrack. A lot of it comes from the band movies between the mother and daughter but the music does play throughout which adds to the film experience as well.

*Hellbender had its world premiere on August 14th at Fantasia Film Festival. It has an encore virtual screening on August 16th at 9:00am EST. Check out more info HERE.*