The Oath provokes questions of ‘why?’ with regards to its Icelandic writer/director/star, Baltasar Kormákur. It sees Finnur, an upper class specialist surgeon and perfect father (not to mention son of a revered politician) go to great lengths to wrest his drug-binging daughter (Anna) from the clutches of her pusher boyfriend, Óttar. If that sounds a bit tropey, it’s because it is. Indeed, we already know much of how the dynamics will play out. For instance, Anna is inexplicably clueless as to how nasty her boyfriend is – whereas it’s clear to everyone else on the planet Earth – so she lashes out at her father for getting involved and being disapproving. Meanwhile, Finnur and Óttar understand each other perfectly well, and push and pull each other in a tug of war over Anna’s head. Óttar makes the requisite tough guy ultimatums and threats, and when Finnur’s ‘Mr. Nice Sensible Guy’ responses don’t seem to resolve anything, he turns into an Icelandic Liam Neeson with a particular set of skills, capturing Óttar and using his medical knowledge to turn the menacing tables.
Most of this action is rather by the book. In fact, one could probably slot this into an entire sub-genre of films wherein righteous fathers take the law into their own hands when the police fail to protect their innocents (usually females) from the sinners of society. Only occasionally does the film attempt to put a new spin on things. For instance, there is a scene with poor little Óttar’s mother, to remind us that of course, he is a son too, and not just some movie villain from a genre piece. There is also the related passage by Óttar when he attempts to win sympathy from Finnur whilst tied up, opining about his tough childhood at the hands of his abusive father. Considering Finnur’s father was a beloved politician and doting dad, it reminds us of cyclical violence and how the paths Finnur and Óttar have been shaped by their respective childhoods. There is also a scene of genuine warmth between Óttar and Anna, illustrating not only why Anna might love Óttar, but that Óttar does truly care for Anna. All of this comes as a welcome dose of pathos and intelligence, but these moments are mainly relegated to the back seat. What really drives things are the tropey suspense mechanisms; the threats, the violence, the police investigation, etc.
On that last note, the film goes surprisingly far after Óttar’s demise into ‘the case’ from the detective’s standpoint. Finnur is suspected, taken in for questioning, and eventually let go with the forewarning that ‘everyone slips up at some point…’ And that’s the way Kormákur chooses to end things. Leaving the audience guessing as to whether Finnur will eventually get caught and whether he and his daughter can patch things up. It’s a strange choice for a suspense piece. After all, it’s not based on a true story (where we might already have the answer), nor is it an art-house character study whereby an open ending might have greater internalised/reflective value for the audience. This is a plot-based suspense thriller. The open ending here presumes we really must care about the whether the fictional characters will be ‘ok’. But why would we?