A dying old man summons a priest to his bedside. The old man seeks to undergo the rite of the last confession. He's abrupt and cynical, and he confesses to a litany of transgression, from being a cold father to cheating on his wife to being a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.
But as the priest listens, the old man shares the one redeeming thing he's done with his life. As a guard, he saved a young Jewish woman from the gas chambers, who managed somehow to stay alive despite the fatal gas. He hides the woman and keeps her alive, until one day she disappears mysteriously. But as he confesses, he reveals her fate -- as well as his reward for his act of goodness in his life.
Directed by Dustin Curtis Murphy and written by Kev Hopgood, this devilishly tricky horror short is inspired by the more classic side of the genre, and leans more chilling than thrilling in its sure-footed storytelling. The horror here isn't found in gore, jump scares or a build-up of suspense and tension. Instead, its horror comes from playing with ideas of morality, and goodness and seeing how easily they can be twisted and manipulated.
From its historical subject matter of World War II and the Nazi death camps to its rich, dramatic musical score and arch dialogue, the film possesses an almost old-fashioned sense of classicism. Its visuals are imbued with a layered, rich sense of shadows, one that makes the dying man's bedside a dark, stuffy, almost claustrophobic room.
It's not a far stretch to imagine the film being made by a great classic director or an actor like Sir Laurence Olivier, and the craftsmanship deftly evokes another time and place. Actor Paul Basset Davies certainly has an almost theatrical flair as he reveals his last confession, playing his dying Nazi as lacking the remorse of someone truly detached and unapologetic about what he has done. But there are very modern, sly tricks up the film's narrative sleeve, which reveal a willingness to provoke by blurring the lines of good and evil. To say anything more would be to spoil the twist, but it spins the story in unexpected directions, for both the audience and the priest.
"The Last Confession" certainly calls to mind stories of aging Nazis being held accountable legally and financially for their roles in the Holocaust. Their reactions of this dwindling cohort run the gamut from the nonplussed to the unrepentant to a few who were ashamed of their participation in the "machine of death." Here, the narrative plays with ideas of justice and forgiveness, painfully evoking the remorselessness of some of those held accountable. In the end, we wonder who was truly good or truly evil -- and if one consequential act negates the breadth of an entire life or a person's character.