Ike Barinholtz writes, directs and stars in this week’s new release The Oath. He plays Chris, who’s married to Kai (Tiffany Haddish). The couple are having his family over for Thanksgiving dinner, but what should just be a standard uncomfortable get-together is given a sharper edge because he disagrees with them politically on pretty much every issue.
Chief among those disagreements is The Oath, a new requirement the government is putting in place whereby all citizens must swear loyalty to the United States. Chris’ right-wing family sees no problem in this, but the more liberal Chris can’t get over how wrong that feels and so fights – both verbal and otherwise – break out over the course of the time everyone spends together.
A hand breaks out of he sign that’s featured on the first poster, a pen clutched in the fingers as the text blares out “America needs you to sign The Oath.” It’s reminiscent of propaganda posters from the past, intentionally so as a way to make sure everyone gets the political message.
Another teaser featured a riff on the “live free or die” image of a chopped-up snake, though this one’s head is a fountain pen and the reminder is to “sign or die,” which is a bit more ominous.
The next actually shows the text of The Oath, with the promise of loyalty to the president at the top and the names of the cast members shown below lines for them to affix their signatures. A blood splatter in the corner hints at the uneasy process that’s behind all this.
The final theatrical poster finally shows both Barinholtz and Haddish, but the image of them holding a turkey – albeit one with the knife still in its back – is less political and more just goofy holiday comedy. That’s reinforced by the copy “Nothing is more American than family drama.” It seems like someone decided to go a bit more broad at the end here.
The first short trailer does a great job of explaining what’s happening in the movie. We see that Kai and Chris are at a family gathering, neither of them excited about what’s going to happen over the next few days. Those fears wind up being valid as a dinner table argument – and so much more – erupts over everyone’s reaction to the fictional “Patriot’s Oath” that everyone is about to be required to sign. Chris is the liberal in a sea of conservatives and so is the subject of everyone’s scorn and over the course of the get together people are tased, punched and otherwise assaulted in various ways.
Another short teaser that was more about the crazy gathering of family at an awkward time came out in early September.
A red-band trailer from late September starts out by presenting it as a kind of B-grade horror movie before moving into the story of how Kai and Chris are the only members of the assembled family not willing and eager to sign the oath. New here is a bit of implication as to what happens – or could happen – when someone refuses to do so, which is a bit ominous.
Online and Social
There’s fullscreen video on the front page of the official website, which is presented in the shaky style of the final red-band trailer. In the middle of that is a prompt to save the release date to your digital calendar. Other than that there’s just the “Videos,” a “Synopsis” and some “Social Assets to download along with links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A TV spot from early October boiled the story down to a kooky comedy about a bickering family, only hinting at the political and societal overtones in the movie.
Media and Publicity
While this movie’s release was still a ways out at the time, a THR cover story on Haddish included mention of it as one of the in-demand actor’s upcoming projects. It was later revealed the movie would premiere at the LA Film Festival. How the story resonated with her as disturbingly plausible was covered in this interview with Haddish mentioning her many films this fall.
One of the movie’s producers tried to connect this to other movies like Get Out that touched on racial issues in modern America. A profile of Barinholtz followed that let him talk about directing as well as various political issues.
I’m kind of curious what the thinking was behind the last-minute adjustment to make the campaign a bit less overtly political. There seems to have been a left turn taken to make it less “scary alt America” and more “horror drama comedy,” perhaps because the political stuff wasn’t testing well or reality began to creep a bit too close to satire.
That being said, it does look pretty funny and is one of a number of authoritarian-minded political movies, something I’m sure isn’t a trend for any reason at all. Haddish is emphasized as much as possible but it’s clear she’s less of a powerhouse in the story here than she has been elsewhere, but the studio still wants her to bring in fans. Whether or not that works remains to be seen.