Confession Time: Confessional (2020) is a Fun Yet Generic Mystery
First Wide Release: May 28th, 2020 (Streaming Platforms)
Director: Brad T. Gottfred
Writer: Jennifer Wolfe
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Starring: Lucas Adams, Paris Berelc, Annalisa Cochrane
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Eight students are blackmailed into confessing to their involvement with the deaths of two college classmates. Lured into an old psychology building, each member of the group is not allowed to leave the confessional booth until they admit to their wrongdoings. Confessional is filmed entirely within the confines of a confessional booth and presented in fragmented clips of each of the eight students’ confessions over the course of eight hours on a single night. Director Brad T. Gottfred’s third feature and first foray into horror is a decently entertaining, non-linear murder mystery.
While nothing novel, Confessional is set up in a fun way that makes it an interesting watch. The information is fed to us bit by bit. Each character begins their story while an unknown presence weaves their personal narratives within each other. It's fun to watch the story progress as each character shares their pieces to the puzzle. While I normally love teen melodrama, there are a few too many cringe moments of dialogue and an entire subplot of an underground fight club titled Cocks Fight Back which took me out of the moment. I also felt that explanations for some events and characters' actions did not make the most sense.
For the most part, Confessional’s characters are serviceable and entertaining enough. The magnetic drug-dealer Raquel, played by Annalisa Cochrane, and the dauntlessly vulnerable Carrie, played by Jess Gabor are standouts. Lucas Adams and Vanessa Marano also give commendable performances. Marcus Scribner’s Garret is sadly an outlier compared to the rest of the cast. Due to the film’s architecture, it is really easy to delve into the minds of the characters as they vacillate between revealing plot points central to their friend’s deaths in various information dumps of exposition and reacting to threats of blackmail. Despite the challenges of the setting and the contrived setup, Confessional’s characters are fleshed out and genuine.
Confessional has a unique aesthetic to it that straddles many sub-genres of horror including found footage, teen horror, and slasher films. Due to the single set location, there is not much movement but ultimately it works to its advantage. It allows the viewer to be a part of the same experience: being trapped in the confessional booth and forced to stay until the conclusion. The claustrophobic setting and bright use of flashing color and sound add to the disorienting atmosphere during a watch.
Confessional is constructed from a minimalist standpoint. There is not much in the way of flashy effects or really clever camera shots to show here, but Confessional knows exactly what film it is trying to be. The editing made for a very frantic watch, which is hit or miss. Without rapid-fire pacing, the viewer might think too hard about the plot but it also can feel alienating to viewers with more traditional tastes. The transitions are smooth and help make for a more seamless and intertwined story. For a movie that hinges all of its characters sitting in a box and vomiting dialogue at the audience, it is incredible how brisk the film feelst.
Gottfred’s feature is a neat albeit generic mystery. Gottfred managed to steep the film in realism with its stakes while also deconstructing the deaths of two promising young students at a small college. The actors play it straight but still have fun with their roles. It all felt on the mark tonally in the end. I am not sure if Gottfred had intended to accomplish much beyond crafting a fun, technology-driven morality tale but I appreciate the effort that was put into it. While certainly flawed, Confessional has a charm that does it for me to be entertaining enough. I realize that probably isn’t the case for most others.
There is much to unpack regarding Confessional. It is not lost on me that surveillance and social media were repeating themes throughout the film. The idea of exposing the truth and holding people accountable for their actions is present throughout the film. The underlying threat of blackmail draws parallels to the current polarized state of social media. Every move you make is under a microscope and if it is the wrong move, you better be prepared to answer for it. The camera angles punctuate this by focusing on all sides of the characters, hellbent on seeing all aspects of their story and more importantly their character. Furthermore, Confessional attempts to tackle topics like misogyny, sexual assault, and homophobia with varying degrees of non/success.
I found myself enjoying Confessional. It views like a very tame crossover of Saw and Truth or Dare and manages to make this amalgamation charming. After much reflection, however, I don’t think I can recommend it. There are many issues with its story and slant but it is an easy way to spend an hour and twenty minutes, but it doesn’t stand the memory test. Much of it is forgettable and I cannot recommend it even as a deep cut film of the year. If that doesn’t dissuade you and throwbacks to 90s’ horror is your thing, step on in the confessional booth and enjoy the ride.
Overall Score? 5.5/10