Directed by: David Helling
Premise: A dramatization of the Biblical story of Abraham (Nicolas Mouawad) who was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac (Edaan Moskowitz) to prove his faith.
What Works: The story of Abraham and his immediate family is one of a man holding onto his faith in the face of hardship and that is the most compelling aspect of this movie. God appears before Abraham and commands a human sacrifice and Abraham spends the next three days walking with his son, knowing all the while that he will sacrifice the boy at the end of the journey. That makes for an interesting tension that is at odds with the warm and fuzzy style of a lot of religious pictures. While on their journey, the film flashes back years earlier to Abraham and his wife Sarah (Sara Seyed) and their struggle to make their way in a desolate land and conceive a child. The scenes between Abraham and Sarah are many of the best scenes in the movie. His Only Son also has an effective atmosphere. The filmmakers create a vivid impression of the difficulty of life at this time and the sparse and arid conditions in which these people live.
What Doesn’t: His Only Son is hampered by pacing problems and a verbose script. The film includes some very long exposition scenes in which the characters debate the merits of faith and sacrifice. This material is relevant to the subject matter but the writing and the execution are flat. These dialogue exchanges are filmed and edited in a shot-reverse shot style that is repetitive and often boring especially given the length of some of these scenes. The two most critical moments of His Only Son are not executed effectively. The film opens with God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son and the scene is staged clumsily. The moment doesn’t have a dramatic shape and God’s command doesn’t have an impact. The moment of sacrifice is also poorly staged with the filmmakers failing to get much tension out of the climax. His Only Son’s dramatic shortcomings may be partly rooted in its presumptions about the audience. This was a movie made for an audience who would presumably already be familiar with the Biblical story but that’s no excuse for botching the dramatic beats. The filmmakers also tend to spell out the religious meaning especially with the overuse of Biblical quotes that appear on screen throughout the end of the picture.
Bottom Line: His Only Son will speak to its intended audience and the filmmakers have a thoughtful take on this Biblical story. The film’s dramatic fumbles undermine the potential of the material.
Episode: #943 (April 9, 2023)