Today we want to chat about the recent film “The Oath,” which ambitiously attempts to bring the backstory of Mormonism to cinematic life. This historical action flick focuses on the prophet Moroni, who plays a key role in the faith’s origin tale. As the last survivor of an ancient Hebrew tribe in North America, Moroni fights against enemies while also working to record his people’s history on gold plates. These end up being the source of the Book of Mormon after Moroni’s ghost later leads Joseph Smith to their burial place centuries later, according to church lore.
So there’s no question “The Oath” tackles impressive source material in dramatizing how Mormon scripture came to be. And I’ll give director Darin Scott props for passion and effort here as he took up producing, writing, directing and starring duties. But while moments engage, overall the execution just can’t match the epic reach of the concept.
With unlikely history to depict and limited resources, the film struggles to feel truly transportive or to make skeptical viewers believe this contested backstory. The result ends up a letdown both as gripping entertainment and religious storytelling. The vision may have been ambitious, but the reality is pretty underwhelming.
Telling the Tale of the Last Nephite
Our protagonist for this biblical backstory is Moroni, played by director Darin Scott himself. The brawny warrior find himself as the Final Nephite standing after his people are completely wiped out by their long sworn enemies, the Lamanites. Understandably bummed about his tribe’s genocide, Moroni settles into a forest cave to preserve his ancestral history by engraving it onto gold plates.
But his scholarly isolation gets interrupted when he takes in an injured woman named Bathsheba, played by Nora Dale. She’s escaped from an abusive situation as a concubine for Lamanite ruler King Aaron. Despite their peoples’ bloody history, Moroni and Bathsheba start to bond as he nurses her back to health.
Of course, just when things seem to be going well for our last hero Nephite, crisis hits. King Aaron wants his runaway concubine back – dead or alive. He sends his ruthless henchman Cohor (Eugene Brave Rock) and adept archer assassin Mahigana (Bathsheba’s sister, played by Karina Lombard) to track the pair down.
So now Moroni faces twin tests – finishing the Nephite record before he too meets his doom while also protecting his new love Bathsheba. Packed with chase scenes through wooded landscapes, this historical actioner builds towards a final face-off between Moroni and Aaron’s goons that will leave only one man standing.
Filming the Forest, Missing the Bigger Picture
Considering its limited budget, “The Oath” manages to showcase some nice outdoor cinematography. Making use of lush forest landscapes and coastal cliffs in New York State, the small-scale production captures a glimmer of natural splendor. We also get a few well-executed action set pieces as Moroni wields his sword against Lamanite warriors through wooded chases and combat. You can sense the passion behind the scenes driving this vision. Director Darin Scott clearly set out to vividly bring this faith-based backstory to the screen.
But while moments shine through, on the whole the execution just can’t deliver a transportive, epic experience. We get limited worldbuilding or set design beyond the recurring forest and cave environments. This leaves the film feeling rather small and static instead of sweeping audiences away to ancient Mesoamerica. Don’t expect much grandeur – buildings, cities, and civilizations are nowhere to be found.
The visual effects also look cheap, with unconvincing CGI animals and weather elements briefly popping up. And don’t look for lush costumes either in this bare bones production. As for performances, Scott’s earnestness as Moroni deserves some credit. But the acting overall trends flat, with questionable line delivery that makes the dialogue feel quite stilted. None of the players step up to inject dynamism into their roles.
The editing does the movie no favors either. Scene transitions often feel abrupt and jumpy rather than fluid. And boy does that overbearing musical score do some repetitive heavy lifting trying to drum up epic emotions. Rather than complementing beats of drama or action, it just keeps clumsily imposing itself where quieter moments might have played better.
Stretching the Limits of Believability
Even for faithful Mormon audiences, “The Oath” takes notable liberties with the religion’s origin legend. Beyond Moroni etching scripture onto gold plates, director Scott injects plenty of actionized fiction into his tale – bloody battles, heated romances, nefarious villains. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cinematic flair spice up history now and then! But Scott’s embellishments may stretch the story past the snapping point for many observers.
Because not only does “The Oath” fictionalize things, the core premise itself on ancient Hebrews sailing to America lacks solid evidence. Outside Mormon scholarly circles, most mainstream experts strongly dispute this version of history. No archaeological record corroborates this migration tale or the grand scale scriptural civilizations described.
So when the film fails to effectively transport us to its fanciful version of the ancient New World, that omission gets magnified by the far-fetched nature of the backstory itself. Even true believers may find this particular portrayal a bridge too far from the holy accounts they hold dear. And for outsiders not inclined to accept the Mormon historical record, the movie does little to compellingly argue its contested case.
Frankly, it’s a lot to ask audiences to buy what “The Oath” is selling. Scott’s passion project might have benefited from leaning less hard on the melodrama and either landing its pulpy thrills with aplomb or fully grounding itself in spiritual reverence. Somewhere in an unsuccessful middle ground, the film strains credulity from both secular and faithful perspectives. The filmmaker forgot the wisdom that less is often more when treading on such thin historical ice.
Falling Flat for General Audiences
So we’ve covered how “The Oath” comes up short both as cinema and convincing religious history. But what about its entertainment value for secular viewers just seeking an enjoyable flick? Well, unfortunately it falters there too in failing to fully engage core filmgoing crowds.
The slow pacing and long stretches without action undermine its appeal as a pulse-pounding thriller. Outside devoted Mormon moviegoers inclined to follow obscure faith tales, marketability looks limited. This just isn’t dynamic enough storytelling to transcend its niche box office prospects.
And the bargain bin production values and amateurish execution further inhibit mainstream enjoyment. Even among fans of Christian productions, critical reception seems likely to be pretty tepid. Because while you can admire the passion behind “The Oath,” what actually comes across on screen is decidedly mediocre.
We’re left with a flick that awkwardly oscillates between anguished reverence and half-hearted adventure thrills. It neglects compelling drama and resonant emotion in favor of chasing epic grandeur that never materializes. For all its striving aspirations, “The Oath” has trouble stimulating the imagination or touching the heart on profound levels. It’s not quite heavenly or hellish enough to make the centuries-spanning tales feel vividly alive right before our eyes.
An “Oath” That Doesn’t Seal the Deal
At the end of the day, it’s clear “The Oath” was a deeply personal passion project for director Darin Scott. And I genuinely applaud the effort to ambitiously dramatize the foundations of Mormon scripture for a wider audience. But unfortunately passion alone can’t will a successful motion picture into being. This righteous quest needed equal parts artistry and restraint to resonate with viewers on meaningful levels.
In the absence of those storytelling attributes, Scott’s scriptural intentions crumble beneath the strained spectacle of B-movie action and romance. We’re left with a film that feels neither authentic to history nor creatively inspired in its fictionalizations. “The Oath” shoots for the heavens but struggles to ever truly take flight as transportive entertainment.
I wish I could say different, but mediocrity prevails on both technical filmmaking fronts as well as plausibility as religious mythos. Here was a chance to vividly bring Mormon origins to life for skeptics and adherents alike. But improbable backstories require extraordinary execution to manifest convincingly on screen. With passion unmatched by skill and vision, this gospel tale can’t achieve meaningful rebirth as compelling cinema. What viewers are left with just doesn’t make the grade as either enlightening faith or fun filmmaking.
While "The Oath" earns points for ambition in dramatizing Mormon origins, mediocre filmmaking and unlikely backstories prove too much to overcome. With lackluster execution failing to bring convincing history or gripping drama to life, the flick leaves faithful and secular viewers alike unfulfilled.
- Ambitious concept bringing Mormon origin story to big screen
- Lead actor shows earnest passion
- Some nice outdoor cinematography/locations
- Cheap production value undermines epic aims
- Sparse historical evidence for contested backstory
- Stilted dialogue and flat acting performances
- Plodding pace and limited melodrama appeal
- Overbearing musical score