The terrifically absorbing “Rectify” takes its time revealing its scope.
A Southern Gothic character study with flashes of legal procedural and prison drama conventions, it’s more a meditation on what death row might do to a psyche.
“Rectify” debuts with two episodes on Monday on Sundance (and on April 28 on sister network AMC).
Moody, dark yet at times poetic, this is TV made in the indie-film style, without pretense. Adult, premium-cable caliber without the visual excess.
“Rectify” is an engrossing tour of a traumatized Georgia family living in the aftermath of a son’s conviction for the rape and murder of his teenage girlfriend almost 20 years earlier. Daniel Holden (Caulfield, anyone?) is released from prison as the story begins, his case vacated when new DNA evidence disproves earlier claims.
Like Daniel, who speaks haltingly but holds a strange sort of wisdom beneath the surface, “Rectify” lays out its intentions slowly.
After the sensory deprivation of prison, Daniel ( Aden Young) seems assaulted by fresh air and daylight, let alone the questions of the press and the curiosity of the locals. On death row he had given up the idea of feeling, let alone the concept of love. He returns home as a boy in a man’s body, an alien in his family and community. Only his sister has unreservedly believed in his innocence. Meanwhile the prosecutor who rode his case to fame is now interested in cementing Daniel’s guilt. And his former attorney, played by Hal Holbrook, knows more than he’s telling.
Creator Ray McKinnon and the producing team from “Breaking Bad” are most interested in the shattering experience of abrupt change. Through subtle direction and great acting, the hours explore the sensations of bare feet on grass, the view through a window after being locked away. The amazing Aussie actor Aden Young gives Daniel an almost musical delivery of beautifully poetic lines. His wonder at the world allows us to imagine the shock of freedom.
“I’m not sure what to think of this ... drastic change of course in my life,” Daniel says. “I’m certainly not against it.”
The pace is deliberate. Moments are allowed to linger. The truth about guilt or innocence may be more complicated and malleable than we like to believe.
The story is intriguing yet not inscrutable or intentionally over-complex. This is the first stab at an original scripted drama series for Sundance â€” and, so far, it’s a winner.