A Spiritual Adviser’s Help Is Twisted as He’s Tormented
In ‘Repentance,’ Grief After a Death Leads to Torture

In the tradition of thrillers about unassuming acquaintances who turn out to be deadly (“Misery,” “Fatal Attraction”) comes “Repentance,” a movie of modest means that nevertheless offers a fairly cohesive story and at least one standout performance. It may underplay an idea laden with potential, but at least that notion is present.

Four years after being in a car accident, Tommy Carter (Anthony Mackie) is an in-demand spiritual adviser drawing from myriad religions. On the eve of Tommy’s major book tour his brother, Ben (Mike Epps), a feckless debtor, visits, seeking aid with his bills. Fortunately, Angel Sanchez (Forest Whitaker), a father with a young daughter (Ariana Neal), is more than willing to pay Tommy’s $300-an-hour fee for help coming to terms with the death of his mother.

O.K., it’s not so fortunate: Angel traps Tommy in Angel’s New Orleans home and subjects him to physical and psychological torments, not least a demand that he confess his own sins. Eventually, Tommy’s wife (Sanaa Lathan) and Angel’s ex (Nicole Ari Parker) stop by, curious about the goings-on, as does Ben. But not before Mr. Mackie and Mr. Whitaker have conducted a bloody pas de deux, and the gifted Mr. Whitaker has demonstrated his remarkable facility with alternating endearing innocence and offhand malevolence.

The director, Philippe Caland, effectively milks the setting, New Orleans, for all its humid, decadent atmosphere and adds just a pinch of the supernatural. But this is secondary to an implicit if unbelabored subtext. What lingers after the closing credits are not the gruesome details of Tommy’s physical agonies but their meaning: the high cost to pay for being a false prophet.

'Repentance' is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for vivid but not protracted torture.