The Vatican won’t be organizing any special screenings of The Club anytime this side of the Second Coming. Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s savage but sardonic new film about patterns of abuse and subterfuge in the Catholic Church plays like Calvary with all the color drained away and the gags removed, replaced by a sharp, well-buried streak of even blacker, more subversive humor. It also (like Spotlight) lands a horrifying blow on a sick culture of institutional self-protection and cover-ups.
A contained local parable in the manner of the Russian film Leviathan—and just as bleak –The Club gives us four aging former priests living with a creepily serene nun in a back-of-beyond Chilean coastal town. At first this motley gang’s only vice seems to be greyhound racing as they hit the scruffy local tracks and make cash off the success of their trim mutt. But we soon realise something else is afoot: The men have all fallen afoul of scandal, including pedophilia, and have been put out to pasture out of harm’s way by their masters. When a new priest arrives to stay with them, a damaged homeless man arrives in his wake. The man screams accusations at the window, a tragedy occurs and soon, the church has sent a clean-cut emissary to find out what’s happening and maybe shut the place down for good. But, no, that’s not how chronic dysfunction works.
As gray and moody as the weather on the horizon, The Club is also as murky as Larraín’s unadorned, haunting visuals: In a series of interviews between the visiting interrogator and the priests, the director literally refuses to bring these men into focus. It’s a terrifically smart film, as Larrain—whose last three efforts (No, Post Mortem and Tony Manero) explored his country under the dictatorship of Pinochet—refrains from demonizing his subjects while at the same making zero apologies for them. He’s more concerned with the complex web of lies and hypocrisy, much of it officially sanctioned.
What’s most winning about The Club is how Larraín manages to allude to the wider structures, behavior and corruption of the church without ever making this claustrophobic, moody and very local story feel anything but crucial, thrilling and disturbing. It’s all built on a foundation of mystery and discomfort that keeps you thinking, worrying and guessing right to the final moments.
Cast and crew