Film Review: The Club

Eschewing the historical context of his previous work, The Club (2015) sees provocative Chilean director Pablo Larraín, follow up the Oscar-nominated No (2012) with an eerily mordant portrait of Catholicism. With an abundance of sardonic wit and a punishingly dark atmosphere, Larraín dismantles the hypocrisy of the church and in the process uncovers the source of many wider social problems. Opening with Genesis 1:4 - "God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness," - The Club focuses on a group of priests living together in an isolated house on the Chilean coast. It's a place for prayer and penance, a purgatory for those that have sinned. It's also a jail.

They live with Mónica (Antonia Zegers), a nun who overseas the strict regime they must live by as they atone for their sins. Mónica isn't completely virtuous, and she allows the priests to drink, watch reality TV and even helps them train and race a greyhound. We're unsure as to why each of these men are here, but when a new priest moves in he unknowingly brings a piece of the past he thought he'd left behind; a destitute young man who threatens to expose the immorality that resides within the four walls of this crudely improvised purgatory. Frosty and unnerving, Larraín employs his trademark wide-screen framing to create an alienating and unsettling atmosphere. Working from a palette of pale, washed-out blues and sombre greys, this disconcertingly somnambulist narrative simmers towards boiling point.

Secrets are revealed one after another and the threat from outside gradually leads to an unstoppable torrent of repressed emotions. It's not all doom and gloom though, and there's the trademark dead-pan humour, unconventional framing and curiously low-key performance that make Larraín's films such a delightfully droll experience. This collision of dark comedy and human tragedy helps draw out the grimmer truths of society and Larraín vigorously stirs them into a scornful reproach of religion and similar oppressive systems of power. A tale of martyrdom, culpability and the oppressive weight of guilt, Larraín depiction of morality and religion have wider thematic resonance and as this group of priests find themselves forced to defend their safe-haven from the very monster they created Larraín's lamenting gaze turns to the plight of the victim and the society that perpetuates his decline.

Each priest's reasons for living within this hermetically sealed asylum of sinners is slowly revealed, and Larraín is smart enough to not tar all of them as child molesters, retaining some moral ambiguity and instead focusing solely on their abuse of power and their new status as lost men of the cloth. It culminates in a composite portrait of society as a whole in a film that's all meat and nerve. Serving to dampen the beauty and sanctity that surrounds the decrepitude of the church's slow retreat into obscurity, The Club is an enthralling parable that's calibrated to shock and amuse in equal measure.

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Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble


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