Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Writer/Director, Dean Puckett for allowing me access to an online screener of his 11 minute Drama/Thriller short, “The Sermon”. The Sermon takes place in the world of a private church community in the isolated English countryside. Ella (played by Molly Casey) is preparing to deal with the fallout of keeping a secret from her father, a tyrannical priest figure (Grant Gillespie) whose preparing for yet another bout of hateful preaching. The film also stars Oliver Monaghan, Denise Stephenson, and Emma White.
The first thing that hits you with The Sermon is its interesting aspect ratio of 3:2 – having been shot in 35mm. It’s a method seldom seen in modern filmmaking, even more so with that of films of the independent persuasion. Experienced DP, Ian Forbes is behind the wonderful presentation and high production value of the film. The Sermon opens to some fantastic establishing shots of the vast and beautiful landscape, and often transitions its dramatic cadence via gentle movements and tracking shots. All the framing is superb and the shot choices are smart. The audio track is clear, and Benjamin Hudson’s combination of orchestral musicianship and contemporary suspenseful synth works wonders. Central performances from Casey, Gillespie, and Monaghan (as the religious family) are all extremely professional. The characters are unwavering in their convictions and Dean paints an interesting picture of that fanaticism. The essence of Ella’s secret poses as a metaphor for having a sort of devil inside – playing perfectly to the religious content on display.
If I’m being nitpicky I’d say that Denise Stephenson might have been a little too old to be cast in the role of Ava. I was expecting someone younger, but that said, her performance is still a solid one. Though I would’ve like to have seen her show some more emotion considering what she endures. Being an atheist, I’m always torn when it comes to how I feel about watching religious films (in one way or another). Blind faith tends to frustrate me and I genuinely felt moments of anger watching parts of The Sermon. I guess that’s Puckett’s point perhaps?
The Sermon was a wonderful surprise and an extremely impressive piece of short filmmaking. The 35mm cinematography is brilliant, the score is befittingly moody, and the performances are all very good. The material unfolds in a unique fashion and audiences should find the climax to be rather rewarding. I think Dean could have had Stephenson (and in turn her character) offer up a little more emotion and the religious subject matter can make for somewhat frustrating viewing depending on your belief system (or lack thereof). It just so happens over the last week I’ve managed to discover some of the best short films of the year and The Sermon is no exception. Check out the teaser trailer and you can also now watch the film at the link at the bottom!
My rating for “The Sermon” is 8.5/10