In his feature length film ‘Hosea’, writer director Ryan Daniel Dobson adapts the ancient story of Hosea, an axial age Jewish prophet, for the twenty first century. The original story is one of destruction and redemption, and this new take follows a similar path, but with added complexities. Crucially, rather than foreground the ‘usual’ principal character, Dobson has placed at the centre of his story the complex and meaning-laden existence of Cate a woman whose story is intended to parallel that of Gomer in the original.
Where the book of Hosea is more interested in the prophet than his troubled wife, this film is really Cate’s story rather than that of her husband. Replete with stark and disturbing themes of abuse, exploitation, self harm, addiction, and intimate partner violence, Hosea as a film and Cate as a character hold up a cracked mirror to contemporary society. Pleasingly, Dobson deliberately pulls back from offering the usual easy answers that one might expect in this sort of story, without allowing spoilers into the review I can still say that even the ending defies the conventional narrative expectations.
Cate, played by Camille Rowe, is sensitively cast and played, with some strong supporting actors in Josh Pence (particularly good) and Avi Nash among others. Her strength and fragility are at the core of the story. There is always the danger in a film like this of ending up in cliche territory at least once or twice, but my feeling was that Dobson’s script steered clear of this. There’s perhaps only the vaguest hint of polemic in his writing, although some messages come through clearly – particularly around mental illness and exploitation. The intent though seems to be to spark discussion rather than offer predigested answers, and there’s a lot to draw upon in the film: issues of religion and culture, sex and intimacy, substance abuse and mental health all spring readily to mind. Beyond that though the story explores what it really means to reconstruct, and what it means to be damaged (and indeed to damage). It asks us why we are so desperate to save things in a particular way, what is it that gives us the right and the privilege to tell others how their lives should be lived.
Hosea – the film – is really a parable, a story which lends itself to considerable amounts of unpacking and discussion. It’s a religious story for a post secular world, which turns a gentle but unflinching eye back toward the viewer.
Due to the themes and content, it’s rated 18+, and it does contain triggers and scenes which some viewers may find disturbing. Recommended.