Captive [2015] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

As a struggling meth addict, Ashley Smith is trying to get her life together so that she can regain custody of her young daughter.  She is intent on starting a new life for herself, but she is still wrestling with the demons of her past.  Her life is turned upside down one night when she is taken hostage by a madman who has been making his way across the state of Georgia, leaving murder victims in his wake.  Ashley is sure her life is over, until she begins to see a new side to the killer.  In the span of a tense 12 hours, Ashley finds she has more in common with him than she previously thought and tries to teach him (while teaching herself) that his life has more meaning than just crime.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

Plenty of money was dedicated to this ‘pop-up’ film, and it mostly pays off.  The sets, locations, and props are very realistic and capture the true story well.  The soundtrack is highly effective for the suspense genre and is not typical of Christian film.  However, there are some minor issues that keep this movie from being all that it could be.  For one, the use of the suspenseful shaky cam idea is a bit overused.  While the video quality and lighting are mostly good, there are some scenes where it is not.  Finally, there are too many dead scenes where nothing is accomplished except for staring.  Overall, this is a pretty good production that puts a lot of bad movies to shame, but with the money and backing it had, it should have been better.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

When in doubt about writing a plot, use a true story.  It’s almost always better to portray real events than fictional ones, unless you’re really good at writing complex plots.  Real life is far more complex than fiction.  Captive meaningfully portrays real events and real struggles people go through.  Uncomfortable realities such as drug addiction and recidivism are handled properly.  The characters are developed fairly well through above-average dialogue, but we would have liked to see more here.  Some of the characters need more obvious backstories that perhaps could have been portrayed through flashbacks.  The idea behind this plot seems stretched out a little too long and but the end, the storyline has overstayed its welcome.  For this story to be as long as it was and fully interesting the entire time, it needed deeper content.  But as it is, this is an enjoyable plot that is sure to leave its mark.

Acting Quality (3 points)

In a change from most Christian films, the acting is easily this film’s strongest aspect.  Emotions are portrayed extremely well.  Cast members showcase diverse acting skills such as effectively pretending to be high.  Mental illness is portrayed poignantly.  Intense and suspenseful scenes are played professionally.  This is a casting and acting job to be proud of and one that can serve as a textbook example of how to act.

Conclusion

Like it’s always good to see real life portrayed in film, it’s also great when a Christian movie finally breaks into a new genre.  Suspense is underused in Christian movies and is hardly done well.  Captive makes a statement and will always serve as an example to follow, but we always think of what could have been.  This creation was so close to the Hall of Fame and we hate to see potential go to waste.  But still, many will find enjoyment in this film as it effectively delivers its intended message.  We are intrigued to see if this team will produce anything else in the future.

 

Final Rating: 6 out of 10 points

 

The Shunning [2011] (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

Katie Lapp’s life is about to change.  As a young Amish woman, she is coming of age and has been chosen by Hickory Hollow’s bishop to be his wife in order to raise his two children following the death of his wife.  But Katie is struggling with her Amish identity and wonders if there is another life for her outside of Lancaster County, as she secretly plays non-Amish music on her worldly guitar.  She also misses her true love, Daniel Fisher, after his tragic death.  What’s more, a mysterious Englisher woman has been asking around Lancaster County for Katie by name.  Everything comes to a head as Katie finally must choose between the life she has grown up in and the life she wants to find outside of Hickory Hollow.

 

Production Quality (2 points)

The Shunning has all the typical marks of a Michael Landon Jr.\Brian Bird production: good video quality, professional camera work, vanilla editing, a clichéd setting and surroundings, and unrealistic costuming.  Landon Jr. and Bird have always known how to invest in quality camera work and video quality, but they unfortunately let too many other things fall by the wayside.  This plot is sleepy enough as it is, but the editing does nothing to help this fact.  Slow transitions between scenes and long fadeouts tempt the viewer to fast forward.  There are also too many scenery sequences that could have been used instead to build characters.  Also, it’s really hard to know if the portrayal of the Amish in this film is realistic or if it’s embellished.  Yet there are enough positive elements to lift this production about average status, but we await the day when the Landon Jr.\Bird team finally goes all the way, as they clearly have the means to do.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1.5 points)

Adapted from Beverly Lewis’ popular novel by the same name, The Shunning just carries the entire identity of a stereotypical Amish plot.  As previously mentioned, some of the elements are likely realistic, but we can’t help but think that some real Amish people would feel offended by some of the portrayals.  There is little meaningful plot content as this film is obviously just setting up for the second installment of the trilogy.  Character development is shallow and dialogue is vanilla.  If so much time was going to be spent on preparing for the next film, it was an absolute must for characters to be deep and meaningful by the time the credits rolled.  Unfortunately, this did not happen.  On the brighter side, the use of flashbacks in this film are effective and creative.  The subplot overlay is intriguing and breathes new life into the film about halfway through.  Overall, while there are some interesting points, this plot really doesn’t hold the attention and it’s difficult to know what audience this movie would draw interest from.  As we’ve mentioned in the past, Landon Jr. specializes in bringing Christian novels to the big screen, but too often, the books are better than the movies.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With obviously practiced ‘Amish’ accents, dialogue from the cast members is often hard to understand without captioning.  Yet the acting is not terrible and is sometimes quite good.  Emotions are sometimes over the top and other times realistic.  It’s not that this movie was cast wrong—they are not coached good enough.  Therefore, this is just another average contribution to the movie.

Conclusion

The Shunning is one of those movies that, when analyzed, is really not that bad, but it carries an intangible air to it that makes it extremely forgettable.  Landon Jr. and Bird have the ability and potential to make a huge difference in the Christian\inspirational movie field, but they constantly settle for second best.  There are plenty of other more meaningful, creative, and complex Christian novels that desperately need to be made into screenplays, and Landon Jr. and company have demonstrated the willingness and ability to do this.  What Christian film needs is game changers, not the status quo keepers.

 

Final Rating: 5 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