Following on from his triumphant success No from 2012, Pablo Larrain returns with The Club – an unsettling story about four priests living in repentance in a cottage by the sea. Their warden – an ex-nun – cares for them without judgement and with affection. All are guilty of a variety of heinous crimes. The priests’ livelihoods are upset when a newly condemned priest comes to join them and his sinful past shows up to torment the household. Verbally shocking, visually stark and deeply upsetting, The Club is one of the most distressing films I’ve seen in some time. When they find themselves being investigated and questioned by another man of the cloth, the priests begin to feel both suffocated and exposed. Determined to make the men recognise they are in a house of repentance rather than in a comfortable retirement home, the new investigator brings chaos and conflict to the household which spirals out of control when past sins and crimes continue to haunt them. It’s a tough film to like and one almost impossible to be unaffected by. Unexpected laughter echoed throughout the auditorium in the preview screening I attended. I never felt like laughing so I can only assume it was the awkward nervous laughter that overcomes one when struck by grizzly subject matters like this. I suspect that if they hadn’t laughter they’d have broken down and cried in horror.
This is a nasty, nasty, nasty movie but one that I still respect and admire. It makes Haneke’s The Piano Teacher seem like Mary Poppins with its sordid dialogue and descriptions of child abuse, sexual abuse and perversion. The house is located near a beach where one priest spends hours training the greyhound that they frequently race and profit from, financially. Gambling, alcoholism and secrecy all take place in the open – tame behaviours in comparison to everything else that’s eluded to. Questions are raised about judgement, guilt and denial – but the film struggles to get beneath the surface of its troubled characters. It seems as though Larrain intends for us to suffer – forcing us inside the walls of the house, feeling as trapped as the sinners who reside there. Claustrophobic and relentlessly grim, The Club is sickening but slick. It festers and violates as it moves into its final climatic movement. There are questions about redemption and resurrection but not enough to give the audience any peace of mind when the credits start to roll. Deeply disconcerting and harrowing at times, The Club is not for the faint hearted nor for the average cinema goer. You will find no relaxation of solace here.