Wraith [2017] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

The Lukens family is tired of living in their old, creepy house, so they want to downsize.  However, an unexpected addition to the family throws them for a loop, as does a disturbing presence their daughter keeps seeing and hearing in her room.  As they must make difficult decisions regarding the life of their future child, the evil presence seems to tighten its grip on their lives, pushing them to the breaking point.  Will they be able to survive the onslaught of the paranormal force?

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For another independent Christian horror film, Wraith doesn’t have that bad of a production, but it is still mostly average on the whole.  Video quality is mostly fine, but there is some poor lighting throughout, perhaps by design.  A lot of the dark scenes appear to be for dramatic effect, but there are other typically cheesy elements that seem to always come with a cheap horror production, such as wild camera work and dizzying cuts.  Though the sets and locations are somewhat limited, also by design, the props are fine, and there appear to be attempts to create authenticity throughout.  The editing is mostly fine, but there are too many issues with this indie effort to give the production anything more than an average score.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

Making a pro-life Christian horror film is an interesting endeavor, and it is not one without potential, but Wraith has too many problems in the plot department to reach this possible potential.  When setting out to make a Christian horror film, it’s like it’s a requirement to totally disregard character development.  This film is no exception as the characters are extremely bland and empty due to cheap and stilted dialogue.  Though there are some interesting attempts at flashbacks and creative psychological elements, they are too muted and downplayed in the midst of wasted time that is mostly filled with stupid jump scares and incoherent moments that are meant to be ‘thrilling’ or ‘scary’ but really just end up being stupid.  Randomly vague things just happen as opportunities to build real characters are squandered by kicking the proverbial can down the road just to get to the ending.  Unfortunately, this storyline gets worse and worse as it goes as it slowly reveals a very ill-advised approach to dealing with demonic entities until it finishes with an extremely cheesy climax that endorses dangerous practices.  Overall, this plot is just a mess and really needed to be completely reworked.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

While some of the more experienced cast members, such as Ali Hillis, are mostly fine in their performances, some of the younger cast members, particularly the younger female lead, are quite bad at acting.  Some line delivery is painfully forced, and emotions are uneven throughout.  Other moments are far too dramatic, which is an unfortunate byproduct of the difficult horror genre.  In summary, this film squandered whatever potential it may have had.

Conclusion

Christian horror films desperately need a better basis.  It is important that the core concepts of psychological thrillers are well-thought-out and have some logical basis before they are thrown into a movie.  Pro-life themes are great, but this consistently has been one of the worst sub-genres in Christian film.  Besides the fact that the basis for the horror elements in Wraith are difficult for most audiences to grasp, the practices that are seemingly endorsed (trying to cast demons out of houses) are extremely dangerous to practice in real-life and should be heavily discouraged.  Unfortunately, this is just another awful attempt at Christian genre-busting.

 

Final Rating: 3 out of 10 points

 

Come the Morning (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Constance Gibson decides to take her three children to the growing city of Los Angeles in search of her absent husband in the hopes that he has been able to start a new life for them all.  However, as they arrive in the strange new city, they find that not all is as they expected, and they will have to make some hard decisions in order to face the future.  Through it all, will they be able to press into their faith in God to get through the dark times?

 

Production Quality (2 points)

For a production created in 1993, Come the Morning is excellent.  Worldwide Pictures has always been a standout company for their commitment to production quality.  Video quality, audio quality, soundtrack, and camera work are all what they should be in this film.  There was obviously great care given to the historical authenticity of this film’s sets, locations, and props.  The only small issues to point out here pertain to some slightly low-quality lighting in some scenes, as well as some quick cuts and transitions in the editing.  However, in the end, this is an excellent effort and is one that can serve as an example for future films.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Unlike other Christian films newer than it, Come the Morning exhibits Worldwide Pictures’ ability to capture the real-life struggles of accessible characters.  This story is not afraid to portray gritty circumstances and contains a lot of good ideas.  The characters are very believable, yet they could use a little more personality through more complex dialogue.  They have a tendency to be swept along by circumstances.  It also seems like this story could be longer than it is, since it leaves a lot of potential on the proverbial playing field.  But regardless of this, Come the Morning is an accessible story that depicts a realistic story that many audiences will enjoy.

Acting Quality (3 points)

The acting is the strongest section of this film since there are no real errors to point out here.  This is a very encouraging acting job to witness, as emotions are all believable and line delivery is very much on point.  The costuming is also authentic, which show great effort.  This rounds out a very respectable creation.

Conclusion

We desperately need more Christian film making groups and creative teams who are consistently committed to rolling out movies that are quality on all fronts.  Five- and six-point ratings should be the norm in Christian film, as Worldwide Pictures always did.  If this were the case in Christian entertainment, we would be looking at a completely new field filled with greater opportunities and successes.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Ride {Rodeo} [1997] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Smokey Banks was one of the best bull riders in the field before he became consumed with alcohol and gambling.  After he finally hits rock bottom by getting himself in trouble, he will have to decide whether or not he wants to go to jail or if he wants to work at a troubled boys ranch teaching the residents how to be cowboys.  One of the boys, much to Smokey’s chagrin, becomes very attached to the fallen athlete and convinces Smokey to teach him how to ride a bull.  Little does Smokey know that his life will be forever changed as a result of coming to the ranch.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

For a late 1990s production, in keeping with usual Worldwide Pictures quality, The Ride is at least average, which was good for the time period.  The opening sequence is effective and seems like the most effort was put into it.  Camera work is good for the genre, though video quality is slightly grainy.  Audio quality is fine, but the soundtrack is generic.  Sets, locations, and props clearly had a lot of time put into them to make the film look realistic.  Yet the editing of The Ride is an issue as the film jumps around too much and confuses the audience.  Overall, this movie is passable and will be enjoyable to some audiences.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

This plot is a slightly typical fish-out-of-water plot featuring a spoiled and famous ‘city’ character being forced to live in the ‘wilderness’, yet it is fairly well done.  The characters therein are quite stereotypical, however, and fit into predetermined molds.  There is also not enough plot content as time is used on too many filler scenes.  Nevertheless, most of the dialogue is good and there are attempts to be meaningful.  But in the end, the plot progression is quite predictable, including many expected scenes and a silly romantic subplot.  In short, this is a fine effort, but it comes off a little bit lazy and phoned in.

Acting Quality (1 point)

For a supposedly professional cast, these performances are not what they should be.  There is far too much yelling and emotions are too extreme.  Line delivery is forceful and robotic throughout.  However, performances do improve in the second half of the film, although it is a little late.

Conclusion

Worldwide Pictures had stronger films than The Ride.  This one was perhaps before their prime and before they had fully honed the skills of quality film making.  The good thing is that they did not stay at this lower quality for very long.  But it’s a shame that they stopped making films after Last Flight Out, because, as pioneers in the field, they could have continued to adapt and change and still be a force to be reckoned with.  Perhaps they will once again take up film making as a mode of evangelism one day.

 

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 10 points

 

Something to Sing About [2000] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Tommy has a gift for singing, but his past criminal record is holding him back from getting a good job that he desperately needs.  When he is tempted to go back to his old life to make some extra cash, suddenly an elderly woman steps into his life and offers him a helping hand.  She helps him find a job and gives him a whole new outlook on life by taking him to church and introducing him to the choir.  But when faced with new opportunities and when his past comes calling again, Tommy will have to make a decision that will impact his life forever.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

In keeping with the usual practices of Worldwide Pictures, Something to Sing About is a quite respectable production, even though it is difficult to attempt a musical, regardless of the genre.  The opening sequence of this movie is interesting, as is the original soundtrack.  Camera work, video quality, and audio quality are all on par with what they need to be.  Sets, locations, and props also meet industry standards.  Really the only downside to this production is its musical structure that sometimes hampers with the continuity of the editing.  As previously mentioned, it is difficult to craft this type of production properly, yet Something to Sing About is overall above average and puts many productions to shame.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

Besides being a creative urban musical, this story depicts the realistic struggles of believable characters that are built on good dialogue.  The Christian message is very accessible, even if the content tries a little too hard not to be edgy and the plot is a little simplistic.  There are some slight cultural stereotypes and cheesy villains, but for the most part, this is not noticeable.  The biggest things that hold his plot back from being all it could be are some silly coincidences, too many musical montages that cause some subplots to be underdeveloped, and large time jumps that hurt this story’s natural progression.  There is also an amateurish climax scene that would not have been missed.  Overall, this was a difficult effort to pull off, yet it has been done in a commendable way—we just feel that it could have been better.  But then again, no one has.

Acting Quality (2.5 points)

This cast is highly professional and each member fits their character perfectly.  There are little to no emotional or line delivery errors.  It is rare to find a cast for a musical that can actually sing.  There are a few cheesy performances, especially from the villain characters, but they are not enough to detract from this high score.

Conclusion

It is very difficult to pull off any musical, so this team must be commended for reaching a score this high, because it could have easily gone awry in the wrong hands.  But we can’t help but feel Something to Sing About leaves too much on the field, especially with regard character development and complex subplots.  This film could have been epic but instead is average, which is not all that bad when you look at the field.  We would like to see a remake of this film, or at least a similar one that builds on this idea and makes it better.  However, we caution the creation of musicals because they are very hard to create and can easily become an embarrassment.  Make sure you have your ducks in a row before doing this and use this film as a blueprint.

 

Final Rating: 5.5 out of 10 points

 

God’s Country [2012] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Meghan Dohery loves making and spending lots of money.  She is on the verge of another multi-million dollar business deal and all she has to do is fly out to the middle of the desert and convince the owners of the land she is trying to buy that they need to take her deal before the bank forecloses.  But little does she know that it’s not going to be as simple as she thinks when the land owners decide she needs to see what life is really like outside of the fast lane for a change.

 

Production Quality (1 point)

God’s Country is a production that is pretending to be better than it is.  This is evident in the use of fake sets and locations.  The video quality and camera work are fine, but the audio quality is inconsistent and the soundtrack is juvenile.  The editing is choppy and there is a lot of reused footage to pump the runtime.  Basically, this is a half-rate effort that takes a lot of shortcuts.  In the grand scheme of things, was it really worth it?

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

God’s Country is an extremely formulaic and childish storyline.  Filled with tons of information dump dialogue, the premise is a ridiculously cheesy and worn out plot about a stereotypical city character being forced to live outside of their element, not to mention a save the camp plot.  All of the characters fit into silly stereotypical molds.  The plot progresses predictably and sometimes even seems to be unintentionally making a joke out of Christians.  The Christian message is plastic and forced and the ending leaves the audience wondering why they just watched this movie.  There is nothing that sets it apart from your average stupid film with a Christian label.

Acting Quality (1 point)

Jenn Gotzon plays herself in this movie, which is what she does best.  Elsewhere, line delivery is very quick and forced and emotions are sappy.  Makeup and costuming are also absurd for certain characters.  This is basically a phoned-in performance.

Conclusion

What is the point of movies like this?  Ripping off a predictable and overused plot idea in a lazy fashion is one of the worst things you can do in Christian entertainment.  Movies like God’s Country only further hurt the reputation of Christian film and make it a laughingstock.  Unless you want to laugh at nonsense, don’t waste your time on this one.

 

Final Rating: 2 out of 10 points

 

The List [2007] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Renny Jacobsen never really knew his father, so he doesn’t feel anything when he receives word of his death except how large his inheritance is.  That’s why he is devastated when he discovers the unusual and unorthodox contents of his father’s will—he cannot receive any of his money unless he joins a secret society known as the Covenant List.  In route to joining The List, Renny crosses paths with Jo, an unlikely potential List member.  Together, they discover that there is more to the secret society than they thought.  Renny must choose the truth before it is too late and before everything he holds dear slips away from him.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

Distributed by a large company, The List has decent production quality.  The video quality is pretty good and the sound quality is consistent.  The sets and locations are diverse and well-constructed.  The film has an overall professional feel, but there are some editing problems.  Some scenes last too long while others are cut too short for the audience to really understand what is going on without reading a lot into it.  There are too many cross-fades and fadeouts.  Overall, the production is above average yet has some errors that hurt it from being all it could be.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from the novel by Robert Whitlow, the plot is more complex than most Christian movies.  It explores a genre unique to Christian movies—legal suspense—and does not follow the typical legal fiction storyline.  There is a lot of interesting content as the plot explores spiritual warfare, something many Christian films would never dare to touch.  However, it is not handled in the best way and comes off as overly sensational.  Too much time is spent early in the movie educating the audience on the complex inner workings of the secret society and not enough time is spent on redemptive qualities, which are rushed through and tacked on at the end of the movie.  Because of the high amount of plot content, dialogue often gets neglected, thus leaving stock characters.  Two hours was not enough to cover the scope of this plot properly.  In short, there is a lot of creative content here that was not utilized properly.  More could have been made of this film.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

The acting is somewhat professional.  There are no glaring errors except for obviously overly practiced and fake Southern accents.  But at the same time, there is no truly dynamic acting that makes this film interesting.  When it comes down to it, the acting is average, thus garnering an average score.

Conclusion

Robert Whitlow has some interesting plots that should be depicted on the big screen, but The List was likely not the best book to choose, since it was first novel.  Secret societies, spiritual warfare, and legal suspense need to be incorporated in various ways into Christian films, but there is a time, a place, and a way for everything.  Even plots like The List are more complex than your average inspirational film, but it still not the greatest.  That’s why it has been awarded an average score.  Nonetheless, we applaud efforts to bring unique movies to the Christian scene and anticipate more to come.

 

Final Rating: 5 out of 10 points