Movie Review: Abraham’s story aimed at the Easter audience — “His Only Son”

Writer-director David Helling introduces and adds a filmed postscript to his first feature film, “His Only Son,” something not wholly unheard of in mainstream cinema, but not that unusual in faith-based films.

He talks down the film’s budget and talks up the crowd-sourced wide release efforts of this account of the moment when Abraham became the father of the Chosen People, tested by the “new” god Jehovah who ordered him to make a blood sacrifice of Abraham’s “Only Son,” Isaac.

Whenever I’ve seen this sort of huxtering done with a Hollywood film, it smacks of “let’s change the subject,” as in “Let me talk about this movie’s earnest intent rather than its quality.” For faith-based films, it’s prostheltyizing, urging the faithful to rally to a movie as a cause. In Helling’s case here, there’s a bit of both in play.

Yes, churches and donor “angels” got the movie into thousands of theaters. And alas yes, the actual film is strictly straight-to-video quality — not amateurish, but somewhat cut-rate, and more importantly, flatly scripted and acted, a 100 minute cure for insomnia.

Helling got his movie cast and made, and chose that little-touched corner of desert California that generations of Hollywood Bible films have conditioned us to accept as the Ancient Middle East.

So it looks right, if malnourished, a narrow story requiring little more than a handful of actors (less than two-handfuls), a donkey, a couple of horses and robes and military gear that can easily pass for that of assorted states of pre-Roman Palestine.

But the story is boiled down to tedium, its action beats limited and its finale pre-ordained and thus under even more of a burden to produce something that the preceding 95 minutes have not.

Abraham (Nicholas Mouawad) is a very old man when we meet him, someone with a military background, it is suggested (Helling makes sure to mention his own Iraq service altar call), and someone who hasn’t heard the voice promising him that he would father a great nation and great people in a new land in a very long time.

When he first heard that voice, he was known as Abram, descendent of Noah. And his very complicated (half-sister, possibly already-married) wife Sarah (Sara Seyed) was named Sarai.

But that was ages ago, something something Sarah reminds him of this when he starts talking about that Covenant that Jehovah promised, and going north to the mountains of Moriah to offer a sacrifice, as Jehovah has instructed. Sarah, who had so much trouble conceiving that she supposedly suggested Abraham father a child with their Egyptian handmaiden, can’t be told what or who is to be sacrificed. And she can’t come along.

“Isaac,” their son, “and I will go alone,” Abraham decrees. “Because the Lord commands it.”

Son and very old father set out on the quest, with a couple of traveling companions. They’re on foot, with a donkey loaded with everything they’ll need for a blood sacrifice — save for the lamb usually used in such offerings. It’s a slow journey, allowing much time for flashbacks, to when Abram and Sarai were young, the earlier tests of “This god has led you iright into a famine, into ” a “barren land” where his wife fears she, too is “barren.”

Soldiers are encountered on the way, and a victim of the soldiers’ predations is met. Injuries are suffered, but Abraham — taking his time with good reason — and Isaac eventually make it to their destination, build an altar and you know the rest.

That’s one thing that would hang over this movie, even if it had a big budget and “name” actors who set off sparks on camera. As we know where it’s going, we need things to enliven the journey and spice up the proceedings, and Helling finds that impossible to achieve with this rather bland cast.

Impatience is sure to set in, with this being one of the most famous stories from the Bible and thus well-known throughout the Western world for millenia.

There are modest effects achieved with lighting (Daniel da Silva is The Lord) and ancient cities and battlements are added to the scenery through the haze (Digitally? Optically, with painted glass camera backdrops or miniatures?).

But by the climax, you realize why the filmmaker was cheerleading his finished film at the opening, and promising a”story by story” series of tales from the Old Testament. This is weak tea indeed. Helling’s begging us to grade it on the curve, as it were.

It’s great that Helling was able to spearhead a self-funded/crowd-funded theatrical release, something only Billy Graham was able to do with movies produced under his banner in an earlier era. No doubt “His Only Son” will be make a profit in fairly short order, especially as Helling makes the connection between Abraham’s planned sacrifice and that of Jesus 2000 years later overt, and just in time for Easter.

But the movie is what it is, and what it is isn’t very good, very engrossing, involving, enlightening or entertaining. One should never make a Biblical epic without remembering the Bible’s great hook as literature. The stories in it, passed from generation to generation, have drama and pathos and hope and triumph rising out of despair and hardship.

There’s a reason others have filmed the Abraham/Isaac story, but always left it as merely a chapter in the larger narrative of “The Bible…In the Beginning” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It’s just a vivid but short anecdote, not material for an epic.

Rating: PG-13, violence

Cast: Nicolas Mouawad, Sara Seyed, Edaan Moskowitz and Daniel da Silva

Credits: Scripted and directed by David Helling. An Angel Studios release.

Running time: 1:43


About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Movie Review: Abraham’s story aimed at the Easter audience — “His Only Son”

  1. Johnny Mizell says:

    So, you’re criticizing someone for promoting and trying to present their effort in a positive light, as well as appealing to the intended audiences’ attraction to the subject matter-How dare he…

    By the way, how are your movie projects doing?

    • Roger Moore says:

      It’s a movie that starts and ends with a sales pitch, or by passing the collection plate, if you prefer.
      And it isn’t very good. So him doing that is the equivalent of Jeb Bush saying “Please clap.”
      Still confused?

  2. sidmcbride says:

    Obviously you are entitled to your opinion, but obviously the box office numbers say otherwise as do most of the crowds reviews. So maybe you should stick to reviewing movie genre that you actually understand.

    • Roger Moore says:

      People talked into going by their preacher? And what, just over $4 million in ticket sales (Maybe 400/450,000 people saw it)?
      Perhaps you should stick to what your pastor tells you to “believe,” “Sid.” I know movies, all genres, including this one. My opinion is that it wasn’t very good, for the reasons I ennumerated. It’s not a “hit,” not by a long shot, and that’s a simple statement of fact.

  3. Luis says:

    Hhhmmm… a secular critic reviewing a Christian movie is tantamount to a junk food junky reviewing the new vegan restaurant. I just don’t think it’s reliable or worth considering. But thanks for your time. Keep watching, there’s always hope that you’ll hear the message. And with all the crowd-funding, there’s sure to be a lot more. Happy Easter and God bless!

    • Roger Moore says:

      Actually, it’s your opinion of it that is blinkered by myopia, and thus unreliable. But thanks for making my car payment this month by reading.

  4. Marjorie Webb says:

    I for one was disappointed in the movie. Yes I am a born again believer. Am 74 years old so I have read and heard the word
    1 I have heard this story many times over the decades. I had to go back and look up the story because neither my husband or I remember two servants that went on the trip. Their only mention two versus one that they’re going, and the other wanted to stay put when the sacrifice was going to be made.
    2 the one servant was talking about his ill treatment given to his people. I had to go back and read about Noah’s three sons, and how the one was cursed to be a slave to the other 2 sons.
    3 the servant mentioned above mentioned, the ill treatment of Hagar, and Ishmael. It was a one line mention that people in general wouldn’t know what they were talking about.
    4. Abraham in a flashback told Sarah to do whatever she wanted with Hagar. Needed a longer flashback of Hagar, taunting Sarah, because Sarah could not have children. Again, this is some thing that I knew about but the general public and some Christians may not know what is going on.
    5. I might’ve missed something in rereading the Bible account. But I don’t know where these military men came from and killed the man and took his daughter. Should’ve spent more time fleshing out the story of who Abraham and Sarah and Isaac were.
    6. I spoke with a woman in the lobby and asked her how she liked it. She attended the movie based on its title and hadn’t looked at the trailer. As Christians when we hear His Only Son, we would automatically think, especially at this Easter season of his only son, Jesus Christ crucified. This is what this woman was expecting.
    7. Some of the music was loud and you couldn’t hear what the people were saying.
    8. The Bible verses may have been pointing to Jesus. Yes, I read the verses, but I was there to watch a movie and did not make any connection.
    9. I feel there was not a strong representation of the Jewish people, nor of Christians that would make anyone be a seeker of the faith.
    10 I know they want this movie to go around the world but I personally don’t see where it would have any effect on nonbelievers. They be clueless of what they were watching. For the people who might see it since the title sounded interesting.
    They talked at the end of the movie about another movie they wanted to produce. They better do a lot better at telling the story. I am not expecting a movie like the 10 Commandments. At least you knew who Moses was and what God was going to have him accomplish.

    • Mike says:

      Someone went in not knowing what this film was about ?? I call fibs 100%

      • Marjorie Webb says:

        Well, I guess you’re calling the lady that I spoke with in the lobby a liar. She said she didn’t look at the trailer just went by the name, and the only person that I’ve ever heard his only son referred to was Jesus.

      • Roger Moore says:

        How is anybody supposed to know who you talked to in the lobby? The trailers tell one exactly who the movie is about, and knowledgable preachers have long linked “only begotten son” bookends. So you’re saying the title’s misleading. Fine.

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