Updated: Oct 4, 2019
October 3, 2019 | UK Film Review
Directed by #MatthewTibbenham
Film review by Nathanial Eker
Faith is a timeless theme in storytelling. That said, as society has shifted to a more secular existence, we’ve moved on from blunt depictions of belief and men in white nighties harping on about spouting wings to James Stewart. No, the pervading populace now favour a voyeuristic examination of true faith; what it means and the examination of how so many maintain it in a world of science and tragedy. The latter manifests as the key theme of Surviving Confession; an intriguing indie with an intelligent premise hindered by dissolute attempts at comedy. This is an issue of biblical proportions for a drama – comedy.
Father Morris is a middle-aged priest. He’s frustrated, exhausted and represses a buried scepticism that’s anything but holy. Friday night means confession night, bringing with it a host of sinners to test his faith (and patience); some genuinely wish to repent while others are simply there to hedge their bets, with one so overtly licentious it’s laughable. The accompanying claustrophobia of the confession booth, the film’s only set, could not be a more appropriate metaphor for Morris’s inner conflict, as he laments his eternal confinement in the oppressively small box. This theme of repression is woven throughout the surprisingly deep narrative, though it ultimately clashes tonally with less than subtle jokes.
Jessica Lynn Parsons’ Amber is an obvious foil to Morris, as she attempts to coax him from his conservative mindset and encourages him to start living. In better hands, this quasi-parental relationship could’ve been an emotional highlight, particularly with the poignant resolution to her arc. However, the combination of an uninspired actor and irritating dialogue make Amber the audience’s penance to endure. Her role as the antithesis of Morris obviously lends her dialogue to the crude and the childish, but poor taste jokes combined with her stereotypical performance ultimately makes her profanity ridden escapades so groan inducing that you’ll find yourself praying for a reprieve.
Fortunately, Clayton Nemrow acts as the film’s veritable messiah, saving the picture from mediocrity and damnation to indie hell. His performance is subdued and warm, though small ticks and deliberated expressions foreshadow a man on the edge. Nemrow’s kind eyes and soft voice make him perfect as a religious devotee while under the skin, his loaded performance hints at a mind wrestling with itself from the moment the credits roll. Father Morris is written with delicacy, realism, and attention to detail; far more so than Amber, or most of the supporting cast. Though even he isn’t safe from the jarring writing of the rushed finale, which leads this pious story to an unforeseen, problematic apex, transforming the empathetic pillar of virtue into a bit of a creep. That said, perhaps that’s the intention; he’s only human after all.
Surviving Confession makes the clever narrative decision to dive into metafiction, as Morris channels his inner Deadpool, smashing the fourth wall with markedly blasphemous dialogue, far removed from his conversations within the diegesis. This clever filmic choice not only aligns us with Morris, but crafts the film’s only successful comic component; satire. Hearing the exasperation of the priest as he derides his confessors, only to speak to them with an insincere warmth is a novel device to satirise the role of authority figures and our expectations of them. Additionally, while asking important questions, the film addresses common myths about the church with a respectful yet amusing fervour. The more dramatic scenes (putting the ending aside) are equally impactful, asking the audience what it means to be a good person. These scenes are where Daniel Perry’s solemn score shines, aiding the mise en scène of the tensest moments with a committed fortitude.
Much of Surviving Confession is witty, thoughtful, and in places, enjoyable. A well-cast protagonist and an absorbing theme should let this indie ascend to the heights of the most revered religious dramas. Regrettably, the unfocused secondary protagonist and awkward conclusion let it down immensely, as does the comedy and melodramatic finale. Much like the duality of Morris’s inner turmoil, the attempts at wit conflict with one another; the fresh satire profoundly clashes with unintelligent, poor taste jibes that muddy the humorous holy water. Overall, parts of Surviving Confession are like taking communion; sincere, thought provoking, powerful. Unfortunately, the elements that don’t work are akin to loudly choking on said communion biscuit, as the congregation gawps with a confused frown.
Film review by #NathanialEker