The success of Angel Studios has been something to behold. The film studio has found a way to connect with a large portion of the Christian population by way of crowdfunding many of its projects, most notably the biblical TV series The Chosen, which raised $10.3 million, good enough to be the largest crowdfunded entertainment project in history at the time.
David Helling’s His Only Son is another landmark for Angel, as the film is the first nationwide theatrical release for a crowdfunded film. Prior to its showing in theaters — just in time for Easter — Helling’s recorded intro plays and he talks about serving in the military overseas before returning to the US and using his GI money to attend film school. The $250,000 he used to make His Only Son went a long way in contributing to what is a handsome production. It’s another win for a studio whose story of rewriting the Hollywood accounting formula is a David and Goliath triumph in itself.
His Only Son tells the story of Abraham (Nicolas Mouawad, Three Thousand Years of Longing), who is visited by God and tells him to travel to Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac (Edaan Moskowitz). It’s a story of pious obedience that is underscored by a three-day long journey. Flashbacks contextualize Abraham’s wife Sarah (Sara Seyed) getting pregnant with Isaac after many attempts. God rewarded Abraham’s perseverance, and now he must go forward in fulfilling another request, as difficult as it will be.
Helling’s film is one of the only to have devoted its entire runtime to covering the story of Abraham, and it’s pretty clear why that is. There isn’t much action in this story. It’s methodical and conversation-driven, defined by flashbacks and the long and eventful journey. On the way to Moriah, Abraham talks to several travelers, and grapples with his own faith. The most interesting drama comes in the form of Abraham’s conflict with Sarah, who understandably cannot accept the idea that the very being who blessed them with a son is allegedly calling for his sacrifice. Neither one can begin to grasp how they will emerge once the deed is done.
Because this story is rather lean, His Only Son suffers from its occasional dryness. This is a quiet, understated work that’s sometimes easier to admire than it is to embrace. Devout viewers of The Chosen and other Angel Studios projects will more than likely be captivated by Helling’s faithful approach to the style, even if the project was made and funded outside of the studio and later acquired. Nick Walker’s photography and Jordain Wallace’s score work hand-in-hand in creating an atmosphere that exceeds budgetary constraints, but giving this material the epic treatment does render it long in the tooth.
Following the credits, Helling reappears beside a scrolling list of the thousands of names and organizations that contributed enough to get His Only Son in the very theater in which you’re watching it. Helling also adds that he’s looking to fund a film entirely centered on the story of Jacob. That story will likely be richer narratively. With Angel’s backing, hopefully his next work affords him more opportunities to go bigger and further evolve as a filmmaker. He’s already got his one divine miracle on his resume.
NOTE: His Only Son is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Nicolas Mouawad, Sara Seyed, Edaan Moskowitz, Ottavio Taddei, Nicolai Perez, and Daniel da Silva. Directed by: David Helling.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!