DVD Review: The Oath

STUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Ike Barinholtz | CAST: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho, Billy Magnussen, Chris Ellis, Nora Dunn, John Cho
RELEASE DATE: Jan. 8, 2018 | PRICE: DVD $14.99
BONUSES: featurettes, deleted scenes
SPECS: R | 93 min. | Comedy thriller | 2.39:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Give major props to Ike Barinholtz (TV’s The Mindy Project), writer, director and star of The Oath, an astute satire-turned-horror movie filled with outrageous incidents that, whatever one’s political position, will get under the skin of any person that pays attention to the news these days.

For a first film, Barinholtz picked a tricky subject: the current “star” of the country. And his way of going about expressing his views are equally risky, as the film begins as a lighter ribbing of the pros and cons of Trumpism, and then—in a way that may remind audiences of Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild—takes  a major shift into serious, scary turf.

The film takes place during the Thanksgiving holiday where cable news gadabout Chris (Barinholtz), a devout liberal, and his wife (Tiffany Haddish, Night School) welcome his family to their home. This would include Chris’s cranky, old school father (Chris Ellis, The Show) and peacekeeping mother (Nora Dunn, Tag), his open-minded sister (Carrie Brownstein, TV’s Portlandia) and his right-wing brother (real-life bro Jon Barinholtz, Director’s Cut) and his conservative girlfriend (Meredith Hagner, Ingrid Goes West).

Sparks fly over the turkey dinner involving a loyalty pledge—the “Oath” of the title—in which all Americans are asked by the Trump-like president to pledge their allegiance to America. The opposing sides clamor over this bit of over-the-top patriotism.

As the family feuds, the tenuous situation is heightened when two federal agents (John Cho, Billy Magnussen) stop in to check on who has taken the oath at the home. Their appearance leads to nasty altercations, both between family members and the agents, and, eventually to a series of fraught situations.

The Oath is clearly divided into two parts, and actually gets better as it goes on, shifting from a satiric tone into more somber turf. One problem is Barinholtz himself, as his character, supposedly the moral conscience and hero of the film, is generally unlikable and overbearing throughout. And it’s not that any of the other characters parading around are any more likable! While Barinholtz should be applauded for sticking to his darkly comic guns in his directorial debut, the film’s tricky subject matter and structure call for a sense of levity rather than continuous cinematic bludgeoning to make its points more effective.

The film received mixed notices and didn’t register strongly at the box-office following a limited released last October. But Barinholtz did a lot of public thumping at that time, which should help its title recognition upon its ancillary market rollout.

Buy or Rent The Oath

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.