“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. “
Leviticus 20:13, The King James Bible
The above sermon is recited by a despotic-like preacher in the opening moments of the beautiful yet haunting short film The Sermon. A simple tale of a secret lesbian love affair is set to unravel when the townsfolk learn that one of their own within the community is an “adulterer” and an “abomination.” The twist: the outed lesbian, who will be publicly humiliated, is having a tryst with the preacher’s daughter. The daughter, meanwhile, is absorbing her father’s hateful homily as she stands by his side, ready to serve wine (the ostensible blood of Christ) in front of an attentive and affirming flock. But as classic horror teaches us, the true twist is our young heroine giving us a delicious ending to what has been an historically tragic and violent end to homosexuals in film.
Playing as part of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival as part of the Slayed: LGBT Horror Shorts – What gives The Sermon strength is its motif and beautiful setting. The town, set somewhere in rural England, is living in the present day, but the people’s dress and dwellings remain anachronistic and conservative. (Only a television set circa late-1990s/early-2000s indicates this story is a current one.) The set up may seem familiar, but the execution is clever and a departure from most mainstream films.
Mainstream audiences often default to Brokeback Mountain as the gay and tragic love story, with one fundamental difference: Gay martyrdom. It’s ironic that the overtly religious The Sermon does not have a gay hero who dies as a lesson for the audience, a device seen in films like Brokeback to ensure the audience thinks twice about their possible or implicit homophobia.
But religious zealots, quoting and mis-characterizing the Bible, might think The Sermon is employing a similar plot line for religious audiences who may also share this homophobia. On the subject of gay characters dying in Hollywood film, the late Arthur Laurents said it best: “You must do real penance. Die!” What is he referring to? If homosexuality equates to sin, you must die. If homosexuality leads to martyrdom, then death is ineluctable. Either way, you die.
(Note: This observation may be an oversimplification of many LGBTQ films of the past and present that have produced nuanced characters, but The Sermon seemingly enjoys toying with these aforementioned themes.)
However one wants to “read” The Sermon, one only needs to be assured of this: The film is a gorgeous, clever, and sexy story cloaked in the dark nature of human beings. But it is also a hopeful tale, one that sheds darkness for proverbial light that is rooted in religiosity and spiritualism. The violent climax may be fantastical, but it’s a metaphor for the millions of LGBTQ brothers and sisters attempting to abscond from an oppressive flock. Audiences must deduce who that flock truly is.
Played as part of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival
Eric Dinsmore | Twitter: @dinsmorality