While I very rarely tackle films that have been in the streaming arena for more than 30 days, I seem to have been on a bit of a theological cinematic bender as of late and found myself unable to resist a request to check out Surviving Confession, the directorial debut from Matthew Tibbenham that is currently available via streaming and VOD through your usual channels.
The film stars Clayton Nemrow as Father Morris, whom we meet as a fourth-wall breaking priest preparing for yet another Friday night marathon session of rote, predictable, and all too entirely mind-numbing confessions from a congregation he professes to care about but whose confessions he's grown rather tired of hearing.
Nemrow is an absolute gem in these early scenes, setting a tone delicately dancing the line between comedy and drama while drawing us into the life of a man who is told secrets he is not allowed to reveal and who has come to realize that many of those who confess have little desire to actually repent. It's as if they come to confession seeking some sort of guaranteed absolution that daily life won't give them.
While dropping the fourth wall is always a risky proposition cinematically, it works here as it nearly instantly makes Father Morris an identifiable human being whose vulnerabilities make him relatable without compromising his priestly aura.
That priestly aura does, however, get challenged when Amber (Jessica Lynn Parsons) arrives on the scene.
A mouthy young woman whose irreverence triggers the tempted spirit of the already fragile Father Morris, Amber is everything that Father Morris is not it would seem - willing to say what she thinks an uncensored in words and deeds, Amber's taunting and occasionally semi-flirtatious "confessions" alternate with Father Morris's increasingly contemptuous encounters with unremorseful flock who seem primarily concerned with the ritual of confession rather than actual confession.
Amidst Father Morris's increasingly pointed encounters with Amber, Father Morris's hearing of confessions also takes on an increasingly pointed tone. From Charlotte (Sarah Schreiber), who has been having an affair with Rupert (Kevin Ging), to Mary (Jayne Marin), Rupert's wife with whom Father Morris harbors a bit of a crush and all the way to a cancer-stricken patient (Ken Gamble) given a month to life who is essentially looking to guarantee eternal salvation while having some final good times, Father Morris's marathan confessions become increasingly influenced by his own troubled heart, doubts, and Amber's influence.
Toward its end, Surviving Confession makes a rather abrupt shift in tone as comedy gives way to dramedy before finally settling into a rather high-drama final few minutes where truths are revealed and the action itself exits what had largely been a confessional setting for the film and places itself in the church at large where stories will begin to connect in not entirely positive ways depending upon your point of view.
Nemrow is easily the highlight of Surviving Confession, a gifted comic actor who's also able to convincingly follow the film's tonal shifting over to dramedy and finally drama. There's enough heart in Nemrow's early performance to make the shift believable, though the abundant influence by Amber doesn't entirely convince.
Parsons is for the most part solid as Amber, though I never quite bought her undue influence on Father Morris's abrupt and life-altering changes. However, Parsons gave an otherwise winning performance here, her surface bravado and taunting obviously masking a life story that gets a slow reveal and is pulled off quite nicely Parsons in her character's major shift toward the end of the film.
Mark Farney's lensing is solid throughout, while Daniel Perry's original music nicely shifts along with the film's tonal variations.
For the most part set within the walls of a confessional, Surviving Confession utilizes that intimacy nicely and it's definitely an abrupt, not entirely successful, shift when the film exits those four walls toward film's end and that setting, in particular, lacks the authenticity and reverence one might hope to find to really drive home the spiritual implications of everything that's unfolding.
Ultimately an entertaining and thought-provoking film about religion, faith, and belief, Surviving Confession is available on VOD and streaming including Amazon Prime, Google Play, and iTunes among others.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic