Perfect Contrition

A traumatized priest haunted by visions of his violent past obligingly serves a rural parish while indulging in a long distance affair, but his vindictive compulsion is sparked when he’s wrongly blamed for the deaths of two troubled altar boys.

Father Thomas Waneright is a traumatized middle-aged Catholic priest serving a dwindling parish in an economically depressed upstate New York hamlet. Haunted by the childhood death of his brother and his failure to protect innocent Rwandans during the country’s genocide two decades earlier, Waneright is emotionally and physically crippled during recurring visions of these tragedies.

To cope with his anxiety Waneright continues a longtime affair with his paramour Dare, a New York City-based, Asian-American nurse practitioner he met in Rwanda before the genocide. He also drinks with his confidant Lucky Freddy, a parishioner, local liquor storeowner, smalltime gambler and the local sheriff’s brother Jake.

Waneright’s anxieties escalate after the altar boy Al turns up dead. Jake determines the cause is a fentanyl overdose.

Complicating matters, Dar arrives on the pretense of researching the circumstances of Al’s death for a fictitious study about opioid-related deaths she’s contrived, but her true intention is to glimpse Waneright’s clerical life upstate.

The following day another altar boy, Sig, is found dead on his family’s estate hanging from a tree. The sheriff, rules the death a suicide.

Sig’s father Rich tells his daughter Hildy, who is Sig’s twin, that Waneright violated Sig and is responsible for his suicide. Rich explains he plans to sue the Catholic Church for the wrongful death of his son and use the money to restore his family’s fortune and influence by reopening the salt mine. Hildy rejects her father’s claim arguing Sig would have confided the priest’s alleged abuse to her.

Later, Hildy tells Waneright in the confessional box that she believes her father killed Sig. When asked if she can prove it Hildy says no but insists she knows Rich did it. She also hints that Rich sexually abuses her. Waneright understands the accusation of sexual abuse against him could at the very least tarnish his reputation and possibly ruin his career.

Dare informs Waneright that Hildy has pointed to evidence proving Rich is the source of fentanyl, that Rich killed her mother and Sig, and sexually abuses her.

Convinced of Rich’s guilt on all counts, Waneright meets with him in an abandoned artist’s studio where he strangles Rich then buries him in a forest.

After Waneright risks his life and soul in a mortal act of revenge, Hildy reveals to him that she and Sig were the source of heroin and that Sig killed himself due to guilt for contributing to Al’s accidental death. She admits that her father did not sexually abuse her. Instead, she and Sig engaged in an incestuous relationship.

The revelations shatter Waneright. Instead of attaining redemption and peace of mind, he falls deeper into sin and regret.

Script Excerpt
Written by:
Starring Roles For:
40 Year Old Rugged Actor
Asian woman 30s
17ish, 18ish, female
In the Vein Of:
The Bad lieutenant
Blue Velvet
The Exterminating Angel
Author Bio:
James Palmer is a former reporter and photographer who covered civil and regional conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. His stories and photos appeared in the Guardian, Washington Post, Toronto Star, Der Spiegel and Reuters, among others. He was awarded the Nicholas Blake Grant for international freelance reporting in 2007 for his work in Iraq. The Newark Star-Ledger twice nominated him for a Pulitzer Prize in foreign reporting for his work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Contest Results:
Barcelona Festival (First Place, First Time Screenwriter) [2018]
Amsterdam (Third Place, First Time Screenwriter) [2018]
Scriptapalooza Features/Shorts (Quarterfinalist) [2018]
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