Confessional which hits Shudder May 28th, 2020 is a surprisingly fun chamber piece full of psychological horror even if you do see the big reveal coming.
Shudder’s latest Confessional by writer Jennifer Wolfe is a clever who-do-it that capitalizes on good performances and people’s inability, to tell the truth. There are consequences for everything you do. The good, bad, neutral-every cause has an effect. The trick is mitigating the damage. For seven students who have a whole lot of secrets, they learn the hard way; the truth has a way of coming out. Two students are mysteriously dead, and the seven forced to participate in a video confessional know a lot more than they are saying.
Shudder has been adding a large variety of films lately. Since their inception, they have excelled because they haven’t just catered to one crowd. They have creature films, classics, psychological thrillers, Lovecraftian horror, foreign films, and body horror. That’s not even a full list of the myriad of options they give. That commitment to bringing new fresh movies to its subscribers has helped cement its place as the go-to streamer for genre lovers. Confessional is one example of the quirky offering you can expect.
The set up is straight from Twin Peaks playbook. Odd characters reacting in seemingly incomprehensible ways as a murder mystery sits at the center of everything. The rules of the confessional booth are simple. Tell the truth or suffer the consequences. Just as Laura Palmer only wanted justice, the creator of the booth says all they want is honesty. The problem is, everyone has something to hide and most of them don’t want to be truthful.
Each of the seven characters plays a specific role. It’s one of the least successful parts of the film, but thanks to quality performance from several of the actors, notably Jess Gabor(Shameless) and Vanessa Marano(Dexter), it doesn’t feel as stake as it would otherwise. There is a shy weirdo who may have an unhealthy obsession with his stepsister. There is also a conservative misogynist who has started his own bizarre lady hating fight club. The leather-clad drug dealer working her way through college, a lesbian rape victim, closeted college athlete are included. The wrong place at the wrong time couple makes an appearance. Lastly, an oddly affectless mentee(Marano) who behaves so strangely, you worry for her sanity.
Gabor is especially adept at delivering the kind of teary-eyed determination you would expect to see from someone who has had something terrible happen to her and is putting the pieces back together. Those pieces don’t always fit the same, and some of them have warped, but eventually, they will be complete again. She vacillates from angry to devastated in a heartbeat. Her nimble portrayal of emotions elevates the entire film. Marano, on the other hand, delivers a sardonic ingenue that sneers through every scene as if she is unaware of the stakes. Her Noelle is the calculated ice to Carrie’s brittle fire. Their one-two punch is the highlight of the film.
The purposely manipulative set serves to create a claustrophobic atmosphere where everyone becomes a suspect and no one is innocent. The locked sound booth serves as both jail and enabler to the seven interviewees. Each of them has been lured into the booth with blackmail. Lighting keeps the occupants on edge as they try to navigate the minefield they find themselves in. Well-timed video clips keep the pressure on. How much danger are they actually in? One by one the seven students are cajoled into baring their souls one way or another. Intercut with delicate, soft-focus shots of the two dead students the booth feels hyper-bright and stark.
Yes, there are moments when the film is as derivative as Noelle says others are. That’s ultimately okay because everyone is in on the joke. Most of the characters are purposely written as one-dimensional stereotypes. There is an order to the mundane chaos. In all likelihood, you will guess most of the big twists pretty early on. That doesn’t mean you won’t stick around to see how it plays out, though. You probably know what’s is going to happen, but you don’t know how it will happen, and you really want to.
There are a few interesting acts of revenge I won’t give away, just suffice it to say glory holes aren’t always so glorious. Moments of satisfying cruelty like that and solid performances keep the film from becoming a joke. Confessional is an entertaining film that is easily worth the short hour and a half run time. It’s not perfect, but at least it’s honest enough to understand its lane. That cheeky commitment to realism is fun if not always successful. Just don’t let the booth hear you, there is nothing worse than a confessional scorned. Watch it on Shudder tomorrow.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.