Review: The Priest
In a lonely desert town, a suicidal priest (Patton Oswalt) makes a decision that kicks into motion a series of strange and comedic events leading him to an unexpected discovery. Is it coincidence or miraculous?
If you know the work of Patton Oswalt, you will know that he is great in just about anything, bringing his signature wit to everything from King of Queens to Brooklyn 99 to Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So it is a particular treat to see him bring his myriad comedic and dramatic talents to the short film world. It is a greater gift still for that short film to be an incredibly thought-provoking meditation on morality set to the journey of a man who feels that he has fallen short of his ideals and finds only emptiness in his calling.
Oswalt plays Father Shauna, the titular priest, struggling with purpose and faith following the death of his brother. In a masterstroke of dramatic and comedic conflict, writer and director Michael Vukadinovich, shows Father Shauna having to listen to the moral conflicts of the residents of his sleepy country town, while they remain utterly oblivious to his disconnectedness and discomfort. (Watch for the confession of Jason Lopez for a masterclass in comedy and character establishment). Oswalt’s Father Shauna is clearly well liked and respected, but he finds himself struggling to bear the weight of sins of others, feeling unwilling and unworthy of taking on their burdens.
Vukadinovich crafts a story that deftly asks the dramatic question as to whether commitment to one path represents fear of all others. As Father Shauna struggles with all of the life experiences that he has missed, while grieving his brother who seemed to relish every opportunity life had to offer, we are given not only an internal struggle of a man in fear of wasting his life but also the seeds of temptation that threaten to derail it completely, as well as having consequences of those he seeks to serve.
This is an intelligently written and superbly performed short film that neither wastes time nor cuts short its narrative. Vukadinovich does not sacrifice substance for brevity and the film is all the better for it. We are taken from laugh out loud moments to gut-churning drama in a journey that allows Oswalt to show off his dramatic chops as well as his comedic skills. Aside from the substance of the story itself, this film looks absolutely beautiful. Director of Photography Laura Merians captures everything from the tiniest details in the b-roll shots to the most striking character reflective moments with a visual texture that not only provides great imagery but is by turns gentle and stark, driving the overall tone of the film in a manner that compliments the performances on screen.
The Priest is the kind of short film that gives you a feature film experience in a compressed duration. Despite being slightly on the long side at 17 minutes, at no point are you watching a scene or moment that does not need to be there. Zach Fine’s editing keeps the film moving apace while knowing when to slow down for the key moments. The craft on display seriously enhances our experience of the story’s rollercoaster events of comedy, tragedy and serendipity. This film is a powerful reminder never to underestimate our impact on the people around us for better or worse. It takes us to the depths of resentment and guilt, the heights of purpose and fulfilment and sees fit to give us more than a few laughs along the way.
Studio: Divide/Conquer | Year: 2020 | Genre: Comedy/Drama | Duration: 17 Mins | Suitability: Mature
Patton Oswalt, Mary Faber, Malcolm Madera, Noëlle Renée Bercy, Jason Genao
Director: Mike Vukadinovich | Producers: Megan Halpern, Terry Huang, Ava Jamshidi, | Writers: Mike Vukadinovich
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