After a troubled past, Michael is on the brink of a fresh start in life. Years ago, he was part of a juvenile neighborhood gang that bullied a disabled girl and her desperate mother to the point of tragedy. Now as a grown man, he has the first real relationship of his life and a stable job in a town where no one knows him.
When an event commemorating the past tragedy puts his name back in the news, he must scramble to keep his past hidden and his new life safe. But the decisions and actions of his former life prove more persistent than he thought, as do the difficult emotions around it.
Directed by Oliver Goodrum from a script co-written with Alexander Craig, this raw, powerful short drama is a compelling character portrait of a man who is unable to escape the past. A former bully whose actions led to the horrific suicides of those he bullied, he has tried to forget the past and move forward with a hopeful new life. But the film asks morally complicated questions of what it means to atone for the past, and whether redemption is possible in the face of such heinous actions.
The film is a sequel to Goodrum's highly successful short "This Is Vanity" from 2012. And like its predecessor, it possesses a striking and potent set of visuals, weaving a washed-out naturalism with propulsive camerawork and haunting images. But "Iniquity" works as a standalone story, with the writing structuring for uninitiated viewers a kind of puzzle that mirrors Michael's confrontation with the enormity of his past. He has a growing tenderness and trust in his first real relationship and has built an ordinary but solid life for himself. And in these scenes, he has decency and even vulnerability.
But as a remembrance vigil is planned and a journalist hoping for a follow-up to the original tragedy begins to intrude upon the carefully protected borders of Michael's new life, Michael's life begins to fray as he confronts the enormity of his past transgressions. Pressures mount, both from the increasingly invasive online media and from home, in the form of his imposing, domineering brother. We get glimmers of why Michael perhaps became a bully in his youth; we also see the glimpses of the past intruding in his dreams and waking thoughts.
Actor Richard Crehan (who played the same character in This Is Vanity) captures Michael's growing unraveling with an unvarnished intensity, in a compelling, remarkable performance that speaks to both the man trying to keep his hard-won life together and the boy who lashed out in violence and terror. Ultimately Michael is a man divided from himself, having sequestered his past from his present. He is suffused with regret, but in the film's explosive ending, he finds himself in a full circle of sorts -- a Möbius strip he himself began as a persecutor, only to find himself on the other side of the loop.
Gripping and thought-provoking, the ending of "Iniquity" finds Michael getting a glimmer of what he wrought all those years ago in a sequence that's almost like a Greek tragedy in its pitiless symmetry. Perhaps some will see it as justice; others might frame it as genuine remorse. It will leave nearly all shaken at the end and pondering the nature of redemption and justice, and just what it means for Michael and others like him.