Perfect Obedience

Julian, a young seminarian, is sent to live with Los Cruzados de Cristo, where he will have to follow a hard spiritual journey to achieve “the perfect obedience”.

Perfect Obedience follows the doe-eyed youngster named Julian who is accepted into The Crusaders of Christ Seminary with the sincere hope of serving in the priesthood someday. Alongside his compatriots, he is welcomed with beaming faces of joy from the supervising priests. Of course, we know there is something sinister afoot. The poster art for the film suggests as much, let alone the title.

Padre Ángel de la Cruz (Juan Manuel Bernal) presides over what would appear to be a perfect seminary. Flanked by a collection of black-clad cohorts, the “men of God” stand on the altar of the cathedral and impress upon the youth what an honor it is to be a member of the school. This while at the same time picking over the nubile faces for a victim.

“…the priest’s victim pool replenished like fresh chum for a tank of sharks…”

The school year commences and the boys get into their routines. Sharing a dormitory, sharing showers that they priests breeze past in oversight of course, and then occasionally getting into a fight here and there. During one particular sacrament, Padre Ángel picks his next victim, poor little Julian. The young boy is moved into the Priest’s personal quarters and we watch as Ángel slowly, ticks away at the boy’s inhibitions with demands for loyalty and submission.

Now, where do you think this story is gonna go? Yep. You are right. Why is that? Because, with all respect to the countless victims of the priesthood, we’ve seen this before. Too much in fact. While Perfect Obedience must be given recognition for its technical merit, the film gives us no new angle to the story. Capably directed and co-written by Luis Urquiza, with Ernesto Alcocer assisting scribe, we watch in stomach-turning horror as the cycle of abuse perpetuates in a seminary… again. As the film ends we are told this was based on a true story. No shit?

“…feels like a catharsis for its makers…”

Perfect Obedience feels like a catharsis for its makers rather than a new way to explore the issue. What is more, the movie stays away from the more provocative and dangerous creative possibilities of humanizing the predator ala Todd Solondz’ film Happiness. No, we are simply offered the familiar story with the same beats and no additional insights. We get the initial side glances, the priest’s victim pool replenished like fresh chum for a tank of sharks, the victim who comes forth with an accusation only to be met with skepticism. Then what? Not to spoil the ending but, well…

The major problem with Perfect Obedience is NOT that it is negligently made. There is great care in the production, the writing, the structure of the story, even the performances. I would even commend the decision to end the story in the way it does as brave. My problem is that we are taken on the same journey with the same plot points and the same played out cycles of well-documented abuse of minors and we get no further insights on the matter. We are simply left with the same nauseous feeling of helpless dread under the abusive powers of the church.

Perfect Obedience (2018) Directed by: Luis Urquiza. Written by:  Ernesto Alcocer, Luis Urquiza. Starring: Juan Manuel Bernal, Sebastián Aguirre, Juan Ignacio Aranda, Luis Ernesto Franco.

4 out of 10

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