By BRUCE DENNILL
Summer Snow / Directed by Jeremy & Kendra White / PG 7
Finding Faith / Directed by Justin Rossbacher / 13V 7
My Name Is Paul / Directed by Trey Ore / 13V 7
The Trail / Directed by William Parker / PG 6
Love’s Everlasting Courage / Directed by Bradford May 5
Reality – lower budgets; tighter restrictions on tone and how many risks can reasonably be taken – suggests that Christian films are usually going to have relatively poor production values and more or less cookie-cutter scripts. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be bad, necessarily, but it does mean you know what you’re getting most of the time. Summer Snow is pleasantly surprising in that, though it bursts with heart, it also throws a few spanners into the works, and with good effect. The story follows the fortunes of a family coming to terms with the loss of their wife and mother, who was the glue that held everything together. The affable but poorly-equipped dad (David Chisum) is doing his best, but he has an elder daughter who’s getting married soon, a son who’s struggling with the challenges of puberty and high school and a young daughter who is generous to a fault – always willing to give, but blissfully naïve of some of the consequences of her actions. There are characters who don’t fit the judgemental, blinkered Christian definition that non-believers often apply to projects like this, including a young, single mother-to-be considering giving her baby up for adoption. There are a couple of other examples of that sort and this edge, tempered by the off-the-charts charm of young do-gooder Hallie (Rachel Eggleston) makes for good family entertainment that will require some useful perspective being gained by younger viewers.
Finding Faith takes the unexpected element of the above and raises the level in the area – and likely the eyebrows of the more conservative part of its audience. It’s a story based on a number of true stories concerning the investigations of Bedford County, Virginia’s Sheriff Mike Brown’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. There’s very little a screenwriter can dream up that’s more terrifying for an average family than a child being enticed into a risky situation and then kidnapped by an unstable adult who has intentions that involve something sexually perverse. The film tackles the subject head-on, unflinching to the extent that there’s a case for the age restriction being higher than it is (there’s a brutal beating in one scene). That said, the real-life scenarios that give the film it’s discomfiting power require parents to acknowledge that kids need to be aware of the what is now a horrible reality: human trafficking happens, and it’s necessary to take precautions wherever possible, particularly in the area of the unsupervised online exposure of innocent kids. Finding Faith is a relatively difficult film to watch, but it delivers its message effectively, and there are good performances from Erik Estrada as Brown and Jonathan Phillips as the online predator. Sobering.
The apostle Paul is an interesting character, whether you see him as one of the foremost spiritual leaders of the entire Bible or simply a successful missionary, as documented in a number of historical documents. My Name Is Paul, a slightly futuristic take on the story – hardcore practical law-keeper turned fervent, faithful believer, with all the politics, violence and confusion that entails – is cleverly made, with Andrew Roth, in the title role, giving Paul the necessary intensity to make him convincing as both personae. There is plenty of grit in the look of the piece, with director Trey Ore taking matters in a Judge Dredd-ish leather-and-dim-lighting direction, complete with the brutal double-barrelled pistol that Paul uses to hunt down Christians with initially. This atmosphere, plus the contemporary feel of the script, makes the film a novel way for those familiar with the Biblical narrative to reconsider its impact on the present. Christians will be challenged by the actions of not only Paul, but Steven, Peter and the other early church leaders as they are represented here. And non-believers will enjoy a competent, tense thriller that has familiar echoes but is not a sermon intended to make them feel guilty in any way.
The Trail is another faith-tinged piece that holds its own in terms of its mainstream storyline – it’s a tale of pioneer settlers heading west in the mid-1800s, and of a woman who has to face incredibly harsh realities once her husband’s plan goes awry. Director William Parker keeps things lean and stark, with the mostly grey tones reflecting the cruelty of the elements as protagonist Amelia (Jasmin Jandreau) strives to survive after a disaster befalls her party. Nothing happens with any great pace in this film, but that’s not to say it fails to compel. Rather, it’s very solemnity gives it a weight and a gravitas that belies that scale of the production. Jandreau is a strong performer, inspiring feelings of everything from sympathy to admiration as Amelia stoically pushes on towards possible redemption.
Love’s Everlasting Courage, made as a TV movie, does revert to type somewhat, featuring the saccharine story and self-conscious acting of a piece always focused to some extent on not being offensive in any way, rather than allowing its content to drive its tone. It’s part of a series, which will be in its favour in terms of appeal – as a standalone project, it’s watchable, heartfelt material, but won’t be remembered for too long after it’s finished. Another Western, the film underlines how difficult the conditions were for settlers on the American frontier, and what sort of attitudes helped or hindered the success of the small communities that came together in remote locations. This scenario allows for the examination of a number of broadly Christian themes, without ever making the story preachy.