By Daniel Barnes
*Opens tomorrow at the Opera Plaza in San Francisco, the Shattuck in Berkeley and the Rafael in San Rafael.
This is the followup film to director/co-writer’s Pablo Larraín’s Oscar-nominated No, and it’s another intimate and methodical take on a dark era in Chilean history, in this case the systematic cover-up of child sexual abuse by the Catholic church (Larraín’s next film covers Pablo Neruda’s time spent as a fugitive in his own country). In an unassuming yellow house in a miserable beach town perpetually engulfed in a milky grey haze, the church has stashed four guilty priests and one ex-nun caretaker, and they live out a quietly decadent routine training a prize greyhound and dining on chicken and wine. The first two-thirds of The Club play like a police procedural, as the suicide of a newly arrived priest brings the attention of a young, laser-eyed church investigator, as well as a deeply troubled adult victim (Roberto Farías, giving the film’s standout performance) who sets up camp outside the house. Larraín brings the story to a thunderous and downright ugly crescendo in the final act, tolling bells and animal murders and Calvary symbolism and everything, then end its with a fairly galling final flourish that wraps the movie into a neat metaphorical package. That left a bad taste, but I’ll still take this visceral and disturbing look at the Catholic molestation cover-up over the middle-distance politeness of Spotlight any day.