[Editor’s Note: I saw this as part of BUFF 2017 and really dug it. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to write it up as I was too swamped, but Damian did a better job with it, anyway.]
Rites of Vengeance written and directed by Izzy Lee, accomplishes more in under five minutes than many horror movies manage to in ninety minutes. And it does so without a single syllable of dialogue! Lee addresses the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church via a revenge story that is damn dark.
Filmed inside what appears to be a large church or cathedral, the movie begins with a priest standing at the pulpit, reading a large Bible. Actor Michael Thurber does a great job conveying the priest’s self-congratulatory piousness as he reads the Bible, smirking with self-righteousness as he kisses the Bible and walks away.
There are two scenes in Rites of Vengeance that are disturbing on multiple levels. The first is when the priest goes to his office, opens a drawer, and gleams with lust as he views Polaroid pictures of his child victims. Enter Sister Mercy, played brilliantly by Silvia Graziano, whose face manages to transform seamlessly from vengeful fierceness directed at the priest to so-deep-you-can-feel-it sorrow for the ghosts of all the children he has abused.
This is a vengeance story, but without giving away the ending, I have to say the second scene that made Rites a movie that I won’t soon be able to get out of my mind involves children’s underwear being shoved into the priest’s mouth.
I watched this short film twice because there is so much to absorb in so little time. Rites is beautifully filmed; the score helps move the narrative along in the absence of dialogue; and the actors do more with their faces and gestures than some actors achieve with words. I usually don’t care for horror movies that are short on dialogue, but in the case of Rites of Vengeance, I believe dialogue would have made this haunting film a lot less effective. If Izzy Lee ever makes a full-length horror film, I know it will be one worth watching.