“Confessional” commits the mortal sin of stupidity

Confessional Paris Berelc & Marcus Scribner in Confessional (Shudder)

The Shudder original about college students forced to admit their deepest darkest secrets is a tedious, absurd bore.

Some movies, you know what you’re in for from the very beginning. If you get scrolling text or a voiceover mentioning something about a prophecy, you can expect a ponderous, overlong fantasy film. When a movie opens with a title card that reads “At this time, the filmmaker’s true identity remains a mystery to both university staff and police,” you’re about to experience some kind of found footage nonsense, and the best you can hope for is that at least it’s entertaining. Sadly, while Brad Gottfred’s Confessional pokes at the smoldering ashes of the found footage genre, it somehow manages to be exceedingly dumb, unnecessarily confusing, and shockingly boring all at the same time. Even with the slim pickings available due to current events, it’s on a fast track to being one of the worst movies of 2020.

Popular college students Zach (Brandon Larracuente) and Amelia (Mia Xitlali) have both died. Their deaths have been ruled an accident, but we know that this can’t be the case, otherwise there’d be no reason for the movie to exist. Seven of their classmates and friends are invited to participate in a project in which they’re ostensibly supposed to discuss how they feel about the deaths. Well, maybe invited isn’t the right word: forced to would be more accurate, when a mysterious individual blackmails them with video footage that may or may not exist of them admitting their most shameful secrets. Locked into a soundproof box and on camera, they must confess what they have done, or suffer some unexplained consequences (perhaps being forced to watch this movie).

You may fire up Confessional on your TV in the hope that it’s some good old-fashioned religious horror, perhaps a balm until Saint Maud is finally released. It is not. I don’t know what Confessional is, and, more importantly, I don’t know what it’s doing on Shudder. It’s a little bit of 13 Reasons Why, a little bit of Single White Female, even a little bit of Fight Club (oh, don’t even ask), but mostly it’s just bad theater, with young, largely unknown actors playing the broadest college student stereotypes — the nerd, the jock, the party girl, the rich douchebag — with minimal levels of competence.

Their “shocking” confessions are exactly what you’d expect them to be, because, other than the fact that the actors spend almost the entire movie addressing the camera in endless monologues, not a single thing Confessional tries is unique. The tearful admissions to drug abuse, date rape, promiscuity and secret same sex relationships are meant to be both appalling, and titillating at the same time, but succeed at neither. If the audience is supposed to be surprised that almost all of these characters turn out to be massive creeps who may or may not have been at least indirectly responsible for Zach and Amelia’s “accidental” deaths, it fails at that too. Its references to Oxycontin addiction and the Women’s March set it in the present, but it feels like something Bret Easton Ellis would have churned out during an 80s-era coke binge, then used to line a bird cage.

I don’t know what Confessional is, and, more importantly, I don’t know what it’s doing on Shudder.

Though none of the characters come off as particularly well, none are written as badly as Noelle (Vanessa Marano), a former nice girl turned obsessive stalker, and Major (Lucas Adams), a bowtie wearing men’s rights activist. Not that men’s rights activists aren’t ripe to be depicted in horror movies (especially if something terrible happens to them), but Major is written with all the subtlety of dropping a brick on the audience’s toes.

This is probably best illustrated when Major, a collection of red pill Twitter cliches in a vague human shape, tells the unseen person filming him that he’s not interested in pleasuring his female partners, explaining “Oral sex is a lot of work, and I’m a busy man!” As it turns out, this is all a swaggering ruse hiding Major’s deep dark secret. Can you guess why he hates women so much? Go on, guess, it’s a really gross, stupid, and extremely played out reason, and I’m absolutely certain you’ll be able to figure it out without wasting one minute of your time watching this.

That there’s not one single original concept to be found in Confessional is merely aggravating. That all the confessing and exposed secrets and threats of consequences lead to absolutely nothing, save for one character injured off-screen, is unforgivable. You won’t likely see a movie this year more desperately flailing to find a point and missing by miles than this one. I’d love to give it the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that it might be trying to say something about the younger generation’s near-compulsion to reveal everything about themselves whenever a camera is in the vicinity, and the consequences that can cause.

Given the cutesy interstitials which hint at who’s behind the confessional booth, however, and the occasional cutaways to flashbacks of Zach and Amelia looking sad, as if anticipating their own demises, it seems like Gottfred, along with screenwriter Jennifer Wolfe, thought they were making genuine art, a clever “no one’s hands are clean” whodunit for the smartphone era. The question isn’t “whodunit” so much as “who cares?”

Confessional is now streaming on Shudder

Confessional Trailer:

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