Ike Barinholtz is strikingly well-versed in an array of hot topics, exhibiting just as much enthusiasm discussing Rupaul’s Drag Race as he does politics, or talking about the classic films that inspired him as a first-time feature director.
“There’s this great old movie called Mrs. Miniver, really old,” says the actor. “I always loved that movie because it tricks you, where the first half [depicts] life in this pastoral English village [as] lovely, despite the war. And then it turns into the Nazis in the house.”
Barinholtz is in the nation’s capital to discuss The Oath, the pitch-black comic thriller he wrote, directed, and stars in opposite Tiffany Haddish. Set over a punishing Thanksgiving weekend when every American citizen is expected to sign an oath of loyalty to the president or face the consequences, The Oath, like Mrs. Miniver, takes a hard turn towards the intense. Inside the home of happily married couple Chris and Kai (Barinholtz and Haddish), all hell breaks loose when every member of their extended family can’t agree to disagree about signing the controversial oath.
The gloves come off, the fight gets ugly, and the violence threatens to go too far — though Barinholtz instinctively sensed how far to take things.
“We knew we were gonna have these really dark elements and violence and blood,” he says. “‘People should probably die,’ is what I was told…I resisted that urge because I wanted the movie — despite everything the people in the movie had been through and despite everything we’re going through now — to end optimistically. I am still optimistic about the country.”
In the film, that optimism runs along a knife’s edge juxtaposed against wild paranoia, and everyone on every side feels the pain. The situation, though played for both laughs and scares, is grounded enough in reality that The Oath doesn’t seem like a paranoid fantasy, but like a real possibility in this cultural moment. “I think the word I would use to describe our current political ecosystem is absurd,” says Barinholtz. “We have an absurd president, you know what I mean? We have absurd leaders. People handle and process these things in an absurd manner.”
That absurdity led to an obvious comparison: “I wanted people to feel like when they’re watching the movie, [it’s] like they’re going through a Twitter feed. You go to your Twitter feed and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice video. That’s funny, that dog is hilarious. Oh my God, they’re separating parents and their children at the border. Holy shit.’ I really wanted to make it reflective of that, and just take people on that journey.”
The Oath is rated R, and opens in theaters everywhere October 12. Visit fandango.com.