AKA Father Forgive Me
Black comedy is a tricky element to get right in any genre, and when you have to question if a film is intended to produce a sensible chuckle or not it’s probably not good sign. The story of Father Jonathan, a Catholic priest who begins to question his faith, opens with a psychiatric patient confessing his sins. The guy thinks he’s Adolf Hitler and has drawn a crude swastika on his shirt. Is this supposed to be funny? They don’t seem to be treating it seriously. But like many scenes here (and there are a lot of them) the random nature of it all does start to feel like a series of skits from an unaired off-the-wall TV comedy. Unfortunately it’s one of the most poorly written and acted shows of all time.
In a brief introduction our protagonist is set up as a ‘mobile priest’. Some library footage of a fire shows us that his church burnt to the ground and as a result he’s using a temporary one. Of course this is really just so they can film all his confessional scenes inside somebody’s living room. Writing around the budget at least is creative I guess. However the first act as a whole is a confusing jumble. Instead of a montage showing his followers discussing their sins, several of them take up entire scenes that go on for way longer than necessary. Most of them don’t really go anywhere. It’s kind of a bad sign when you start wondering what the actual plot is meant to be this far into the running time.
This kind of awkward dialogue and clumsy editing are par for the course, and there are things like abrupt cuts in the soundtrack that indicate they used stock music… but didn’t fit the length of scenes around the samples being used. A lot of other random threads are introduced early on, including a nun who is romantically interested in Jonathan, and a visit from his brother who is either cross dressing or really believes he’s Jonathan’s sister. Further scenes with hospital patients don’t really help the pacing and none of these situations lead anywhere which is kind of strange. There’s also a group marriage discussion in which a woman starts to go into labour a few minutes into their meeting, but what purpose this serves is a mystery.
Is the a commentary on the purpose of the church in modern life? They don’t seem to be that vexing for the protagonist. The only narrative through line seems to be via Madison, a widow who wants to donate to the new church construction and is obsessed with poodles. For some reason. This subplot appears several times and includes some of the weirdest dialogue, including her description of one of her pets as ‘the Frank Sinatra of the dog world’. What a quote, and what a delivery. At one point she gives a photo of one of her pets to Jonathan who declares ‘I’ve always wanted this special picture’. It’s a real head scratcher and I have to say this is where it starts to generate a few laughs that are probably unintended.
But what of an actual storyline? What is the titular evil? For a long time it seems like nothing will actually happen. But eventually Jonathan’s visiting sinners become more extreme and he decides to turn vigilante killer on those who confess serious crimes. I have to admit it comes out of nowhere, and as a result is kind of a fun twist. But maybe this is just a problem caused by the film having two directors, one just wanted to make a cute movie about the weird life of a priest. The other wanted to make a slasher film. Shouting ‘I’ve had enough Lord!’ he goes on a murder spree to personally send them to hell. He doesn’t really convey this kind of emotional state and the tone isn’t expressed through the lighting or camera work, but you get the idea in a vague way.
Eventually the acting is all so bad its effects wear off and the viewing experience becomes a kind of numb trance like state, but they throw in some amusing inner monologue moments to keep some of the odd momentum going. He just wanted to be a karaoke star, but they drove him to kill. I’m not kidding, in one sequence Madison gives him a sequinned shirt to wear for his other less violent hobby – starring in a Neil Diamond tribute night. Why not just tell the story of a man of God who wants to be a singer? Why not have those dogs feature somehow? It’s a total mystery, one that raises questions both about the plot and the film makers involved.
Pimps, drug dealers and rapists all die at his hand, not before he lightly hits them with his rosary beads and yells things like ‘die you heathen’. I don’t think all of these were church regulars but he seeks them out somehow. A detective is thrown in at the last minute to add a little variety to the drama, but the efforts of the police to catch him are pretty weak and soon they just give up entirely. Perhaps somewhere under all the baffling story moments there’s a cutting satire of organised religion, but I’m afraid it’s been lost forever thanks to the general incompetence of the production. It’s all pretty baffling as they include weird zoom shots and freeze frames as well as more stock sound effects and dramatic stings.
Is there a horror comedy somewhere in here trying to get out? Is this even supposed to funny? It’s doubtful. Some of the releases of this film hint at this being a ‘cult-classic’ but I have a feeling this level of self awareness wasn’t present during the production. I get the impression that it’s just an attempt to sell this after the fact as a ‘so bad it’s good’ kind of film. Maybe that’s your cup of tea, and that’s okay. At least there’s a sense this was at one point a serious attempt at telling a story with real issues, although from the final results it’s very unclear. It’s generally just a weird slog; a melting pot of random ideas, mind boggling scenes and poor performances which offers only fleeting (and probably unintended) entertainment value.