Henry Czerny Leads Black and White Chiller

THE RIGHTEOUS (2022): Henry Czerny Leads Black and White Chiller

Shot in sumptuous black and white, The Righteous (2022) offers a taut and horror-tinged character study. Anchored by a guilt-stricken and searing turn from Henry Czerny, Mark O’Brien’s film settles deep in your bones. 


Henry Czerny in a still from “THE RIGHTEOUS” (Arrow)
The Righteous follows Frederic (Henry Czerny) and Ethel Mason (Mimi Kuzyk) as they mourn their daughter’s death. Killed in a hit-and-run while pedaling around town on her bike, the little girl was their whole world. Frederic left the priesthood to marry Ethel, and then the two adopted from troubled young mother Doris (Kate Corbett). Frederick is crippled by guilt and the fear that his transgressions against God led to this tragedy. 
That night, back at the Masons’ isolated woodland home, a wounded stranger named Aaron (Mark O’Brien) stumbles into their lives. Vague on personal details but undeniably charismatic, Aaron convinces Frederic and Ethel to let him recover at their house. Gradually though, Aaron’s sinister side emerges, forcing Frederic to confront the extent of his past sins. 

Classical Sensibilities

Black and white filmmaking is too often treated as a simple shorthand for pretension. It is not in fact a fix-all to lend a movie gravitas. The style requires careful attention to shadow, contrast, and atmosphere to avoid a flattened grayscale. In short, you want to aim for Roma (2018) and stay far, far away from Belfast (2021). Thankfully, O’Brien’s work with cinematographer Scott McClellan falls distinctly into the former category. 
Mark O’Brien in a still from “THE RIGHTEOUS” (Arrow)
Channeling Val Luten’s signature misty gloom (think 1942’s Cat People), the two subsume The Righteous in a glorious twilight. Whether day or night, light beams cut surreptitiously through the Mason home and grounds. Shadows refract everything, the constant suggestion of dark doubles circling the conscience-hounded characters. In one gut-punch of a shot, Ethel and Frederick look at their daughter’s empty bed. Their shadows yawn up from the barrenness, consuming the space. 
O’Brien, who makes his feature directorial debut here, also embraces a methodical pace reminiscent of older Hollywood films. He favors measured push-ins and pull-backs that convey unnerving voyeurism. The Righteous is structured mostly around a series of loaded conversations, and pairing those steady tracks with unwavering close-ups underscores the disquieting nature of the discussions. It allows the creeping dread to compound. 
It’s therefore slightly disappointing that the final sequences eschew that precision for a more bombastic finish. No, this is no CGI punch-fest, but rather a rush through closing twists that leave more to be desired. Questions about Aaron’s identity and what Frederick’s actions mean for the future are truncated into simple plot cause and effect. Tack on a notably melodramatic closing shot and you end up with an entrancing first three-quarters of a movie, with a head-scratcher of a final chunk. 
Henry Czerny in a still from “THE RIGHTEOUS” (Arrow)

Czerny Leads Exceptional Cast

A claustrophobic chiller like The Righteous relies on a cast that can sell slow-burn monologues and ample dread. The film echoes the sensibilities present in the early episodes of Mike Flanagan’s masterful Midnight Mass (2021). Our central trio here is made up of Czerny, O’Brien (pulling triple duty as writer, director, and supporting actor), and Kuzyk. Kuzyk ends up with an underwritten part that she nonetheless modulates into a series of riffs on a woman grieving both her child and the joy that came with the life they shared as a family. If only there was more for her to do!
Comparatively, The Righteous comes alive when O’Brien and Czerny face off in their crackling discussion about faith, grief, and self. What begins as tentative “getting to know you” chats rapidly devolve into a standoff with lives on the line. The two previously co-starred in the underrated and absolutely delightful horror-comedy Ready or Not (2019). One imagines they grew close on that set because they share fabulous chemistry here, one that sells both Aaron’s venomous charm and Frederick’s shattered hopefulness. 
Czerny is the standout though. From an opening sequence that finds him uttering a haggard prayer, he owns every frame. With an ability to adjust from beaten-down man to hammering clergy in an instant, Czerny lends Frederick all manner of depth. Since the start of his career, Czerny has also leveraged his imposing eyeline into memorable character beats. With glances just as ready to knock Aaron out of his chair as beam a dying love to Ethel, Czerny is a dream to watch. 
Mimi Kuzyk and Mark O’Brien in a still from “THE RIGHTEOUS” (Arrow)


The Righteous has its flaws, but it is an inarguably stylish and engrossing trip through one man’s demolished soul. It is also a promising feature debut from multi-hyphenate O’Brien and suggests an exciting career ready to burst forth. 
The Righteous is written and directed by Mark O’Brien and stars Henry Czerny, Mark O’Brien, and Mimi Kuzyk. The film opened in selected theatres on June 3 and will be available on VOD starting June 24.

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