First Reformed is the new film by Paul Schrader (screenwriter of Taxi Driver), about an increasingly disillusioned sickly reverend played by Ethan Hawke, who is asked by a pregnant wife played by Amanda Seyfried, to talk her politically minded husband she suspects is suicidal. As the reverend’s encounters with the husband become more intense, the reverend’s ideologies begin to parallel the husband’s own. All colliding with the 250th anniversary of the reverend’s church.
First Reformed is a genuinely haunting and dread ridden film that once again explores the aspects of isolation coinciding with mental health problems under the gaze of realistic political worry. And these themes intertwined with themes of the male obsession towards conventionally beautiful women, white privilege and revenge, all found in Schrader’s classic 1976 film Taxi Driver, but still so relevant today. First Reformed also newly intently tackles the balancing of religion and reality. What happens when you apply religion to the realistic business affairs of a church and to the undoing of the planet within climate change and societies place on the earth. As well as the injustices to one another, in which how does one “keep it all together” when the problems seem to be increasingly stacked - how could one not “lose their head” and want to exact something extreme to make a strong point when their backs are mentally against the wall within the world’s truly daunting, truly real problems we all face. That our increasing fear of our planet would understandingly push us into the comfort of obsessive love.
One reviewing the flaws of First Reformed would say it’s themes are too "on the nose" but when realizing the intense reality, the film is portraying, it’s not on the nose. It’s eerily exact.
Portraying these poignantly important messages in First Reformed comes a very focused and unrelenting performance by Ethan Hawke, who sells the dishevelling of the reverend so logically yet instantly without ever subverting the character as a whole. And a surprise performance by Cedric the Entertainer, as Ethan Hawke’s fellow reverend, in a extremely natural and uncompromising role that plays to Ethan Hawke’s crisis of character.
Paul Schrader’s direction with the films subject matter instantly leads a upsetting grime tone to the film and even ironically which adds to the films unease. Stagnant straight forward shots conveying the story and a cold intent accompanied with a chilling bare bones atmospheric score and the irony of church hymns. And like Taxi Driver, Schrader allows the characters surroundings to eerily tell the story.
First Reformed is one of Paul Schrader’s best films, and my favourite so far of 2018, and with the trend of social horror in the ether, First Reformed is definitely a contender for the years best horror film.
- Maurice Jones