Confessional (Movie Review)

It is a game of truth or consequences in Confessional, a Shudder Exclusive that begins streaming on Thursday, May 28th, 2020.

The campus murder mystery stars Mia Xitlali (Selling Rosario short 2014, Max 2015), Brandon Larracuente (13 Reasons Why series, Party of Five series), Paris Berelc (Lab Rats: Elite Force series, Alexa & Katie series), Lucas Adams (Days of Our Lives series, Kidnapped by a Classmate 2020), Jess Gabor (Her Story short 2018, Shameless series), Marcus Scribner (The Good Dinosaur 2015, Black-ish series), Vanessa Marano (Switched at Birth series, Saving Zoë 2019), Jake Short (A.N.T. Farm series, Mighty Med series), and Annalisa Cochrane (Cobra Kai series, Heathers series).

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The mysterious losses of Amelia Lincoln (Xitlali), a film student, and Zach Turner (Larracuente), an Olympic hopeful swimmer, rock a college community. In the aftermath of their strange, seemingly drug-related deaths, seven students are blackmailed into revealing everything they feel about the untimely passing of the pair, everything they know, and everything they have done. There is much more than initially meets the eye when it comes to Carrie (Gabor), Raquel (Cochrane), Garrett (Scribner), Noelle (Marano), Sai (Short), June (Berelc), and Major (Adams). Will their confessions unveil the truth—not just behind the deaths, but about the faceless entity behind the confessional, as well?

Clocking in at 85 minutes, Confessional was directed by Brad T. Gottfred (Orgies and the Meaning of Life 2008, You’re Not a Monster series) and written by Jennifer Wolfe (The Obstacle short 2010, Struck short 2012). Billed as a Thriller, the film is a blend of Drama and Mystery aimed at the 18-24 demographic, and set on a campus running amok with deadly secrets. Unrequited love, sexual assault, illegal fight clubs, and jealousy are just the tip of the iceberg in Confessional.

The secrets that are finally made public in the padded confessional are not necessarily the most shocking (save for one), though the film is framed in such a way as to make the entire experience far more intriguing than your average campus whodunit. Sitting somewhere between 13 Reasons Why (more the Jay Asher bestseller than the Netflix retelling) and the ridiculous surreality series Big Brother, Confessional uses its characters’ confessions to map out each piece of its puzzle.

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In some ways, one could say that this is sophisticated Found Footage: a collection of on-camera interviews shot by an anonymous creator, presented as the film within the film. (It’s all very meta!) There are both positives and negatives to the viewing experience, because, as this approach to storytelling is certainly not generic, it creates a movie that is almost entirely composed of dialogue. The character development, therefore, is the meat of this tale, while the ‘action’ of the characters is largely left off-screen and to the imagination. In plain English: we hear the students speaking about parties, drugs, and alcohol, but we never see those moments for ourselves.

In this, the cast of Confessional are forced to be on their game at all times. It’s their body language, facial expressions, and oral delivery that compose the bulk of each of their performances, and set up the framework for their characters. These are complex characters. Adams’ Major is misogynistic from moment one, smarmy and exuding a thick air of entitlement; a rich kid who knows he can get away with murder. Cochrane’s Raquel is initially cocky and flirtatious, but she softens up as more of her background is revealed. Scribner’s Garrett and Short’s Sai are not so easily defined, both men offering characters who are multi-faceted. Then there’s Berelc’s June, who is openly defensive; Marano’s unsettling Noelle, who rarely ever blinks; and Gabor’s Carrie, sporting a bruised eye and cut lip, and appearing skittish from the outset.

Stuck inside the padded walls of the confessional, each of the actors must hold conversations with themselves for the cameras (and the camera behind the cameras). The entire premise can not be simple to deliver, but they sell the story with their nuanced performances. Additionally, one cannot omit Xitlali and Larracuente, who have very different roles but both deliver, as well. In fact, Xitlali gives a stand-out performance as the thoughtful Amelia, the filmmaker and interrogator at the heart of this entire mystery.

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Yet, despite all these positives, Confessional is still just a film composed of actors sitting in a cube and relaying their personal contributions to this deadly drama. So, while it never overstays its welcome, this is not a Horror-Thriller that combines scares and thrills with its terrible secrets. If you are okay with that, then there is a thoughtful framing to its tale, one that teases you with just enough information to keep you guessing until the very end. If you are someone who necessitates big, bold movement, well, this is not going to be the summer flick for you. We enjoyed it, so Cryptic Rock gives Confessional 3.5 of 5 stars.


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