Imagine an America in which the rights of the people are oppressively limited by the government… For some, that idea isn’t too far of a stretch. Others couldn’t possibly imagine a world in which that was the case.
The Oath is the directorial debut of actor and comedian Ike Barinholtz (Blockers, Neighbors). It stars Barinholtz and Tiffany Haddish as a couple who struggles to make it through a family Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, America is divided over an oath being encouraged by the government swearing loyalty to the President. The film recently debuted at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival.
The marketing campaign isn’t doing this film justice. The trailers make it appear like more of a straight comedy, and while there are plenty of hilarious moments, the film is much closer to a comedy-thriller or horror-comedy.
Instead, the movie seems to be using its satirical premise in an attempt to elicit fear from the audience. The intensity of the film is certainly very high. Once everything is established, the pacing doesn’t slow down, which is great.
Part of what makes the film so effective is that, while symbolic and perhaps slightly exaggerated, the film isn’t completely unbelievable. This is something that could actually happen in America, and that makes the fear all the more real. Even though the movie is almost certainly made with today’s politics in mind, there were few any direct jabs at any particular person, with the political commentary instead focusing on the state of the government as a whole. Because of this, much of the satire had the effect of causing uncomfortable laughter, as events began to progress and order began to devolve. The situational comedy teased by the trailer is used as comedic relief from the sustained tension, and also elicited a lot of laughs.
The execution of the film is very strong, too. The movie surprisingly manages to not show its budget, as its production values are quite high. Much of the film is set in a confined space, and the filmmakers are highly successful at using that to its advantage, creating suspense and tension. The score is also great, with its dark, looming sounds contributing to the film’s intriguing tone. The few practical effects used are also very impressive.
Additionally, the movie’s ensemble does a great job in their roles. Ike Barinholtz is hilarious in his lead role. He is able to show a lot more depth and range in this role than in many of his others, although he still has the same goofy charm about him. Tiffany Haddish was a surprisingly good fit for her role, bouncing off of Barinholtz well and being surprisingly subdued, with the exception of the opening scene. John Cho also has a strong, but brief supporting role. That being said, the film’s true standout is Billy Magnussen. He plays a character that is hilarious, yet equally terrifying, quote out-of-type from what he has done in the past.
The Oath is a truly impressive movie. If you can go in with an open mind, there is a lot to appreciate and enjoy. It is perhaps one of the funniest and most intelligent satires to be released all year.
The Oath is now playing in select theaters and expands October 19.