His Only Son
MOVIE | Despite small-studio limitations, Abraham’s journey may be worth a watch
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➤ Rated PG-13
Once upon a time in Hollywood, the Bible inspired filmmakers to create sweeping epics meant to awe, entertain, and inspire, but the genre fell from favor. With the Easter season upon us, upstart Angel Studios—the studio behind The Chosen—aims to bring the Bible back to the big screen with its first theatrical feature film, His Only Son.
The movie tells the story of Abraham, specifically the events surrounding God’s command for Abraham to kill his son Isaac. It opens with Abraham waking in the middle of the night, receiving a clear instruction from God to sacrifice his son. Abraham keeps the details of God’s message to himself, merely telling his wife Sarah that he and Isaac must travel to Mount Moriah to sacrifice to the Lord. It’s a three-day journey to Moriah, and Sarah, reluctant to let her son go, convinces Abraham to take a couple of servants with him, too.
As the group walks through the dusty landscape—actually they shuffle oh so slowly through the dusty landscape—flashbacks to earlier events from Abraham’s life interrupt the narrative—his original calling, the destruction of Sodom, the affair with Hagar. The journey is also interrupted a few times by extra-Biblical ruffians, meant to add a little drama and peril to the story.
His Only Son is writer-director David Helling’s first feature film, and for a first film made with a modest budget, it isn’t bad. Nicolas Mouawad and Sara Seyed play Abraham and Sarah, and they both give credible performances (though I can’t say the same about all the supporting cast). Seyed’s scene in which Sarah blames her husband for the affair with Hagar is a standout moment.
The movie contains some beautiful cinematography, and Helling deserves credit for getting the lighting right. Nothing makes a movie look cheap faster than bad lighting design. But the movie’s small budget and the director’s inexperience still make themselves known.
I liked Helling’s decision to give Sarah Bedouin face tattoos, even though it seems unlikely the custom reflects a 4,000-year-old tradition. The costuming, on the other hand, was inconsistent, a mishmash of time periods and cultural traditions. The low budget is also obvious in the casting. His Only Son simply doesn’t contain enough people for a feature film. At one point on the journey, Abraham and Isaac pass the city of Hebron, but they don’t enter the strangely medieval-looking city. City sets and crowd scenes would have cost too much.
The movie also suffers from poor pacing. The extended scenes of our travelers stumbling along the road in silence make this 90-minute film drag. Bizarrely, the climax of the movie—I’m going to risk spoiling the 4,000-year-old story—in which Abraham binds Isaac and God intervenes with a substitute, is rushed. It’s almost like Helling didn’t know what to do once he got the patriarch to Mount Moriah.
Despite the movie’s limitations, the journey with Abraham might be worth taking. Until I watched His Only Son, it never occurred to me to wonder how Abraham felt about the destruction of Sodom in light of his previously saving the inhabitants of that city at the Battle of Siddim. In this movie, mankind’s sin tortures Abraham, and he’s broken over his own failings. The movie notes the patriarch’s adultery, lack of faith, and even his enslavement of others. Halfway through the film, the travelers have a theological discussion about the nature of sacrifice and atonement that sounds ripped from the pages of the New Testament.
Though this is a story from the Old Testament, Helling frames the narrative with the death of Jesus. It’s an overtly Christian film tying the symbols of sacrifice to the true sacrifice accomplished on the cross. The movie reminds us no one, not even Abraham the possessor of the covenant, can earn God’s favor. The Lord justifies His people through His own righteous substitute.
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