Directed by: Pablo Larraín.
Written by: Guillermo Calderón & Pablo Larraín & Daniel Villalobos.
Starring: Roberto Farías (Sandokan), Antonia Zegers (Hermana Mónica), Alfredo Castro (Padre Vidal), Alejandro Goic (Padre Ortega), Alejandro Sieveking (Padre Ramírez), Jaime Vadell (Padre Silva), Marcelo Alonso (Padre García), Francisco Reyes (Padre Alfonso), José Soza (Padre Lazcano).
In Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, there are several scenes dealing with a non-descript house in the neighborhood of one of the reporters, who is horrified to discover that the Catholic Church is using it to shelter a group of priests who have been accused of pedophilia. The inside of the house – and its residents – is never seen in Spotlight, and it remains an ominous presence – in part because of just how normal the house is. Pablo Larrain’s The Club takes place inside a house like the one in Spotlight – in a small, seaside town in Chile, where four Priests and a nun are locked away from the outside world. The Nun, Monica (Antonia Zegers), runs the house – cooks the meals, sets the rules, etc. – and the four Priests spend their days not doing very much of anything other than training a greyhound to race in the local weekly races – which they watch from atop a hill with a set of binoculars. A fifth priest comes to live at the house, and the rules are explained to him – basically, that he can only go into town early in the morning, or well into the evenings, and can only go by himself. This house doesn’t want any attention – but that is precisely what this new priest brings. He’s barely there when the house receives a visitor – a man named Sandokan (Roberto Farias) who stands outside the house screaming – he recognizes as one who had sexually abused him as a child and is making a lot of noise outside the house. The new priest is given a gun to scare away Sandokan – but instead uses it to commit suicide.
The men who live in the house represent the “old” Catholic Church – the one who would sweep things under the rug and forget about them. After the suicide, they send Padre Garcia (Marcelo Alonso) to the house to question the Priests – and he’s supposed to be the “new” way – more open, less secretive. Rumors swirl through the house that Garcia has closed down several other houses like theirs – and that he’s there to do the same thing this time – get the Priests to confess, and throw them to the wolves. Garcia seems like the most moral of the characters – but gradually, it appears that perhaps the Church hasn’t changed as much as it likes to think.
The Club is at its best during the interview scenes – when Garcia questions the different priests – and surprisingly, the nun – about their secrets and why they ended up locked in this house. The movie, smartly, still doesn’t reveal all of what the Priests did – they remain evasive and stubborn in the face of Garcia’s questions. One, who has been there since the late 1960s, has gone senile and – and there’s no file on him, so no one knows why he’s there. The others evade Garcia’s questions – or will only partially admit things – like Padre Vidal (Alfredo Castro), who will confess to being gay – which he believes is sexuality that brings him closer to God, but not to abusing children. Another, Padre Ortega (Alejandro Goic) – was involving in taking children from the poor and giving (or perhaps) them to the rich – and questions what right Garcia has to question him, when he clearly doesn’t understand. The Nun evades the question of her guilt simply by saying things like “They said I abused her”. All of these men – and one woman – have been trapped in this house for years to think about what they have done, the sins they have committed – and yet they don’t seem like they’ve even scratched the surface of their guilt. Everything is still someone else’s fault. Not even the presence of Sandokan – who will not go away, even if he’s not blowing the whistle on the priests either – helps them. He stalks around – a shadow of the people they themselves victimized, his sad life should show the consequences of their actions – but they cannot see it that way.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie isn’t as good as those interview scenes – and the film gets weaker as it moves along, and Larrain seems determined to add more and more unnecessary plot to a movie that at its best when it’s plot less- including a convoluted, violent, nightmare climax which is unnecessarily grim and brutal – although wholly unexpected (always worry in a movie like this for the long-term safety of the dog). Larrain seems convinced that he needs to bash the audience over the head with his message, which ultimately ends up not having the impact it should. The entire movie is shot in the drabbest, dirtiest grey color palette imaginable – the better for all the misery to come out – but it becomes monotonous and monochrome pretty early, and stays that way.
The clergy molestation scandal that rocked the Catholic Church remains an interesting story – and there are ways to explore new ground in it, despite all the movies and documentaries that have already been made on the subject. Unfortunately, The Club isn’t one of those movies. It has good moments – and good performances – but it doesn’t really add up to all that much, other than the fact that these men are bad, and even good Priests like Garcia can go too far in trying to protect the Church. More scenes like the interview scenes – where Larrain forces us to share space with the priests, and see a little bit of their thought process – both about the crimes they committed, and how they justify them to themselves – and The Club have been something more than it is – which is basically just another misery tour, without a whole lot to say.