ABSOLUTION (1978) Blu-ray
Director: Anthony Page
Kino Lorber

From Anthony Shaffer, author of THE WICKER MAN, comes the compelling low-key thriller ABSOLUTION on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

St. Anthony's boy school's strict Latin professor Father Goddard (Burton) has high hopes of guiding charismatic Benjamin Stanfield (Dominic Guard, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK) towards the priesthood. He soon finds his influence on the young man waning when Stanfield starts hanging out in secret with Scottish roughneck Blakely (Billy Connolly, THE BOONDOCK SAINTS) who has been squatting in the nearby woods and occasionally breaking into the school to steal food. Goddard forbids Stanfield to see his worldly friend again, encouraging him to find friends in the cloistered school setting; but Stanfield has long concealed a contempt for Goddard and his classmates, particularly crippled Arthur Dyson (David Bradley, KES) who seeks the approval of both Goddard and Stanfield. When Stanfield tells Blakely that he cannot see him anymore, Blakely and his townie girlfriend (Sharon Duce, OUTLAND) convince that celibate Goddard fancies him and to tell him some wild tales of orgies in the woods under the seal of confession. Stanfield does so but an upset Goddard is unable to punish him but does send the police to oust Blakely. After a roughed-up Blakely lashes out at Stanfield, the younger man makes another emotional confession to Goddard and reveals that he has murdered Blakely in a fit of rage at being rejected and buried the body in the woods. When Goddard goes to the woods to look for the body, he finds himself the victim of a prank by Stanfield and his cronies. Goddard punishes Stanfield and the younger man responds with another confession that he has killed Blakely for real this time (the greater sin being a false confession) and has equally homicidal thoughts about Dyson.

The missing link between Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK and DEAD POETS SOCIETY – including the presence of a weaker, emotionally sensitive student likely to either be murdered or commit suicide – the underrated ABSOLUTION is less subtle than the former but to good effect. A refreshingly low-key Burton keeps the issues of Goddard's fixation on Stanfield ambiguous, seeming to shun the admiration and idolization of Dyson as much as Stanfield's affection (false as it may be). The script instead follows the psychological trajectory of Stanfield from a bright and athletic student whose favoritism by Goddard alienates him from his schoolmates to coldly manipulative and sadistic; with his dislike of Dyson as much a projection of Goddard's own frosty attitude towards the approval-seeking cripple (initially introduced in drag for the school's comic opera but whose initial apparent effeminate behavior may have proved disturbing to Goddard). The climax is predictably tragic, but Shaffer throws in a twist that is both contrived in a conventional thriller fashion yet satisfying in its apparent emotional redemption of Goddard; but then Shaffer cruelly twists the knife one more (at which point Burton finally goes off the rails in the scenery-chewing fashion we've come to know). The supporting cast includes Andrew Kier (QUATERMASS AND THE PIT) as the headmaster along with Brook Williams (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), Hilary Mason (DON'T LOOK NOW), and Willoughby Gray (A VIEW TO A KILL) among the faculty.

Released theatrically and on videotape by Trans World Entertainment (and laserdisc by Image), ABSOLUTION became something of a PD staple on DVD (even though the rights remained with ITC and its subsequent owners Rank and ITV) with soft and faded tape copies digitized in Mill Creek sets and from various other labels like Synergy and Westlake. The first official digital release came via TGG Direct's MGM-licensed two-disc DVD-R set that paired the film with Burton's earlier ALEXANDER THE GREAT. Sourced from a new 2K master, Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer does not impress at first with the bright exteriors under the opening titles looking a tad softish, but close-ups and interior scenes reveal a worthy bump up in the textures of faces, hair, vestments, as well as the settings from the smooth-ish stone and woodwork of the rest of the school to the harsh stucco walls enclosing Burton in the confessional (indeed the film seems to probe Burton's facial features with increasing claustrophobia as the film moves on). Flare pops up in a few rare instances but the only real damage appears during the end credits. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track announces its depth right away with the banjo strummings (performed by actor Connolly himself) and also reveal some subtler scoring that must have been covered up by tape hiss on earlier versions. There are no subtitle options. The only extras are a trailer for the film (3:05) and trailers for THE ROSARY MURDERS and TRUE CONFESSIONS. (Eric Cotenas)