A burdened man feels the wrath of a vengeful God after he and his wife are visited by a mysterious stranger.
It’s easy for me to start with Bergman’s Seventh Seal because of its odes to heaven and hell and life and death and the beyond. But Bergman’s influence on me as an artist and human being is so markedly burned into my foundations that it’s hard to say I directly thought about any of his films while making The Righteous. His work for me is almost like how you know your own phone number or the name of your first grade teacher. It’s just something that’ll always be there. So let’s just say Bergman’s work is an unavoidable and inescapable part of my DNA. Moving on!
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Sexy Beast (2002) - I love films where one character is bullying another into doing something they’re morally conflicted to do. This is a very simple film. It’s a gnawing and pestering film. But it’s a joy to watch! You know at some point Ray Winstone is going to give in to Ben Kingsley. And yet, you can’t turn away. Partly because of the performances and Jonathan Glazer’s incredible pace and style. But mostly, I think we’re still hooked because it’s a simple scenario that we all can relate to, but with giant stakes.
Cache (2005) - This movie gets in your bones and stays there. The last shot of The Righteous is something that I hope will keep the viewer thinking about. What Haneke does in this film’s last shot is unlike any I’ve ever seen. He forces you to rewind and try and unravel what everything means, while at the same time giving you the comfort of a viewer trusting that the storyteller knows exactly what it all means. It’s a puzzle and just slight enough to make you have to take in every aspect of every frame to try and unravel the mystery. Outside of this and Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, no other film has cast such a spell on me.
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - Even if Dreyer could’ve made this film with sound, it wouldn’t have been as impactful. Everything in this film is said with faces. I based a lot of my character in The Righteous on Maria Falconetti’s Joan of Arc - a pale, white face, one that stands out in the crowd, of either complete enlightenment or complete deception. She is the pure subject of the film in many ways, much like Aaron is in my film. They are on display for everyone to judge. The incredible emotion of Falconetti inspired me to make my antagonist both sympathetic and tortured.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) - A grossly under appreciated film in my opinion. Again, an evil antagonist with an absolutely heartbreaking past. Coppola considers Dracula’s torment and plight, and still manages to create a massive piece of pure entertainment. This is the meeting of high art and commerce. As much as I knew my film was very much on the “artsy” side of things, I always wanted to keep it exciting and thrilling. Coppola achieves this with a melodramatic, operatic piece with once again, stakes of the grandest order. There is no subtlety here, and thank God for that.
The Night of the Hunter (1955) - Charles Laughton’s masterpiece is a nightmare on film. Every scene in this film rides the fine line between realism and fantasy. It’s filmed and told like a cautionary tale, something that doesn’t actually exist except for when you close your eyes at night, where it’s more real than waking life. That’s what I wanted to achieve with my film. How much of the film is real? Or Frederic’s worst nightmare? It’s up to the viewer to decide, but in the end it doesn’t really matter because when you’re asleep, you believe in the realism of every moment of your nightmare. What if your waking life contained that same dread?
Enemy (2014) - A film told from the protagonist’s subconsciousness. It’s a murky place down there, where all that guilt, sorrow and regret lives. The Righteous is about what lurks beneath the surface, but more specifically what lurks beneath Frederic’s surface. Our subconsciousness determines how we live our lives, but terrifyingly, we’re not even aware of it because it’s not on the surface of our minds. The dread Villeneuve creates in this film and the toying with his protagonist directly influenced the pulsing threat of Frederic’s destiny, determined by his own past misdeeds.
Mark O'Brien is an award-winning actor/filmmaker. His feature directorial debut, THE RIGHTEOUS, which he also wrote and starred in opposite Henry Czerny (MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE), premiered at the 2021 Fantasia Film Festival, where it took home Best Screenplay. It then went on to win Best Screenplay at Grimmfest in England, as well as Best Cinematography. Mark was also nominated for Best Director of a Feature Film by the Directors Guild of Canada. The film garnered rave reviews from around the globe, with Nick Allen of RogertEbert.com claiming the film “displays an ambitious leader of performances and someone with ideas that continue the conversations from Bergman’s best.” The film had its US premiere at the 2022 Santa Barbara Film Festival.
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