DIFF Movie Review: ‘First Reformed’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

A quintessential A24 film, First Reformed follows several weeks in the life of the struggling Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke). Divorced and coping with the death of his son, he’s solicited by the pregnant Mary (Amanda Seyfried) to help counsel her husband. Michael (Philip Ettinger) is a radical environmentalist who despairs at the thought of bringing a child into a world on the brink of disaster. His depression slowly infects the lonely and ailing priest, who turns to alcohol and the increasingly manic ramblings of his personal journal for solace.

Brimming with evocative imagery and questions with no simple answers, First Reformed continues A24’s excellent track record. It’s shot in a beautifully plain style well-suited to the brief, brutal violence that serves as punctuation to a couple of key moments. Hawke and Seyfried both take superb turns in a film that navigates comfortably between existential despair, dark humor, and raw human intimacy. Things do start to go slightly off the rails in the third act but it’s a welcome kind of insanity, if such a thing exists. Writer/director Paul Schrader has put forth a challenging and original film that’s well worth a walk on the gloomy side.

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