Oh this is rich. A trilogy of God’s Not Dead movies. And is it just me, or is this turning into a shared universe. *one Google search later* Damn it, no. Granted, some actors that have been in religious films in the past make their way here, but damn it, I wanted this to be a random shared universe. I would be laughing ’till kingdom come.
Technically, I’ve not seen the previous God’s Not Dead movies, but I have seen reviews of them by Youtube’s Cinema Snob. I feel like, through him, I’ve seen enough. But to my understanding, the God’s Not Dead franchise is basically your cookie-cutter Christian persecution stories. The first one is about a college student in a philosophy class who debates with his Atheist professor over whether or not God exists, while a bunch of other side-plots happen. The second movie is about a school teacher who referenced Jesus in a class, in a historical context and not in a preaching way, and goes to court over her actions, while a bunch of other side-plots happen. They look like miserable trainwrecks to sit through.
Now with this third film, it appears that a recurring character throughout the franchise just had his church burnt down and… actually, I don’t really know what the plot is. Is he having a crisis of faith? Is it about justice being served to find the culprits who did this? Actually, if I use my brain a little, that’s probably exactly what this movie is about.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have David A.R. White (both God’s Not Dead movies), John Corbett (ALL SAINTS , SERENDIPITY , VOLCANO , and upcoming films THE SILENCE  and TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE ), Shane Harper (GOD’S NOT DEAD  and 1 episode of ZOEY 101 [2005 – 2008]), Ted McGinley (CHRISTMAS WITH A CAPITAL C , PEARL HARBOR , and WAYNE’S WORLD 2 ), and Samantha Boscarino (1 episode of GIRL MEETS WORLD [2014 – 2017]). In support, we have Mike C. Manning (GINGERDEAD MAN 3: SATURDAY NIGHT CLEAVER , 2 episodes of TEEN WOLF [2011 – 2017], and upcoming films DIRT MERCHANTS: REBELISTIC  and YOU CAN CALL ME EVE ), Jennifer Taylor (RUMOR HAS IT…  and THE WATERBOY ), Shwayze (stuff I’ve never heard of), Tatum O’Neal (THIS IS 40 , THE RUNAWAYS , and the upcoming ROCK PAPER DEAD ), and Benjamin A. Onyango (both God’s Not Dead movies, THE TERMINAL , video game RESIDENT EVIL 5 , and upcoming films HEAVENLY DEPOSIT  and BEAUTIFULLY BROKEN ).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Michael Mason, making his debut in both. Congrats, sir. Composing the score is Pancho Burgos-Goizueta, known for a bunch of shorts. The cinematographer is Brian Stanley, known for SAMSON (2018), CASE FOR CHRIST (2017), and the upcoming THE PRAYER BOX (2018). Finally, the editor is Joseph Sandoval, making his feature film debut. Also congrats, sir.
Overall, IMDb gave this a 2.4/10 (as of 3/30/2018), which says to me that this is going to be fairly bat-shit. I’m calling it, the church burning will be the fault of an Atheist and when he gets arrested, the main guy will find God again and declare that a happy ending. It’s not like Atheists haven’t been demonized before in this franchise, so I wouldn’t be surprised. I don’t know how much of a laugh I can get out of this. Although I identify as Agnostic more than Atheist, I hate it when Christian extremists like this go overboard with their beliefs and point their fingers at everyone else for their problems, claiming to follow a religion that practices peace, love, acceptance, and tolerance, when the reality is that they’re hateful, closed-minded, and have a worse shot at getting into Heaven than an Atheist who just minds his own business and does what he can to be a productive member of society. So I think I’m going to suffer through this, but I’d like that to not be the case.
This is my honest opinion of: GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS
Reverend Dave Hill (David A.R. White) has just recently been released from prison after refusing to turn in his sermon transcripts after a court case. Intending to resume his job as a Reverend, he comes back to a wealth of controversy as the students of Hadleigh University are split among those that want the St. James Church gone, and those that want the church to stay. And after a student throws a brick through a window, accidentally causing a gas leak, which ignites a spark, killing the newly inducted Reverend Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), the school board intends to tear it down, believing the church has caused only controversy and has sparked violence. Intent on keeping the 150 year old church where it stands, Dave enlists the help of his estranged lawyer brother Pearce (John Corbett) to help defend the church.
Oh man am I conflicted about this one. Before you go thinking that I think this movie is good, stop right there. It’s not, but… I give it a little credit, it did a few things right.
Let’s get that sorted through first. The best part of this movie is basically any scene between Corbett and White. They really do feel like bickering brothers that haven’t seen each other in a long time. And they do seem to have a complex relationship. While Dave has certainly embraced his religious upbringing and feels very strongly about keeping the church where it stands, the same can’t be said about Pearce. He’s an Atheist, but he’s still helping Dave with defending his church, despite it all. You see that?! You see what happened right there?! An ATHEIST is defending a CHURCH and its right to stay where it is! Holy crap! This is unheard of in a Pure Flix movie! Usually, the Atheists are considered to be root of all the problems that Christians face. They’ve been labeled as emotionally tortured villains. They’ve been faceless demons who would sooner set a Christian on fire than let a Christian say anything related to religion near a school. For the first time in a Pure Flix movie, there’s an Atheist who isn’t portrayed as a monster! And not for any reason! Pearce isn’t an Atheist because of tragedy, or hatred of Christianity. He’s simply a non-believer. Bravo, Pure Flix, you’re kind of growing up. What’s more, there does seem to be a mutual respect for each other’s belief system. While certainly Pearce makes teasing jabs at Dave, as any Atheist occasionally does, it’s never out of an intention to cause harm. Plus, it comes off more like a brother teasing a brother, not an Atheist teasing a Christian. The subject matter is a simple detail.
There’s even a scene where Thomas (Ted McGinley) has a brick thrown through his window. Again, this is the first time when Christians have been portrayed in a negative spotlight in a Pure Flix movie! Granted, there’s problems with this moment too, but I’ll get to that later. Still, it’s an acknowledgement that even Christians are fallible.
Even with the praises that I say about the movie, those moments nearly get chipped away by the end, but thankfully don’t full go the routes I thought. In the case of Pearce, we were shown a Bible that had a note written to him from his now deceased parents. One of the final scenes, if not the final scene, is him back in his hometown with that same Bible. I won’t be overly critical as it’s more likely that he has it as a final memento of the parents he though stopped loving him, rather than him finding his faith again. It’s not like we see him reading it or praying. The same kind of goes for Adam, who is remorseful of his actions and when Dave comes to confront him in jail, he hands Adam Jude’s Bible. Again, Adam isn’t reading it and the movie doesn’t explicitly say that he’s a believer, he was just hoping to be forgiven for an impulsive action that took the life of a person he didn’t mean to hurt. Maybe the makers of the movie intended them both to find religion again, but I think it’s intelligently ambiguous enough.
And I admit to liking the ending a little. Reverend Dave making a sacrifice to let the church get taken down and to erect his own in another location, supposedly close by to the school and opens it in Jude’s name, which I thought was a cool gesture.
But now it’s time to open Pandora’s box and voice what I didn’t like about the movie.
First off, I really hate this set-up. For one thing, I don’t believe for a second that so many students would be up in arms against the church, especially the Atheists. Whatever the drama the church is going through, it doesn’t affect them. Maybe I missed something in the opening, but I can’t believe that these students have better things to do with their time than to protest against the church. Again, real Atheists wouldn’t care about what’s happening. If roped into a conversation, everything they say would be to try and get out of the conversation, not start one up, or keep going with it unless backed into a corner. These students are way too invested over something that isn’t worth the effort. If anything, the protesting should be a bunch of Christians protecting the church, cleaning up the graffiti, all that stuff. Or the protesting should be in front of the administration building for not doing enough to protect the church from the jerks defacing it.
For as violent as the explosion was that destroyed the church and killed Jude, he certainly died with seemingly very little injuries that didn’t seem very life-threatening. Seriously, I think he just had a few scratches and a singed T-shirt. I don’t even recall scratches or burns on Jude’s face. Sure, can’t make his injuries too graphic, gotta maintain that PG rating after all, but if you’re going to let your movie go this dark, might as well go REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) and aim for the higher rating. But that’s neither here nor there, I guess.
Remember when I mentioned how a brick was thrown through Thomas’ window? Well, this has a problem too. For one thing, instead of calling the police and having them get fingerprints off the brick and go after the jerks that broke his window, he… goes to Dave’s house and literally starts a fist fight with him. It’s really stupid and this is Thomas’ moment to speak out against the church to have it torn down. That’s not how that decision works. If anything, because of what happened at his home, one would think Thomas would be pulled away from the decision-making as he is likely too emotional to make any rational decisions. One would also think he’s be put on leave to make sure his family is safe. But nope, he gets into a fist fight with a man who had nothing to do with what happened and uses that as a reason to garner support for the church’s demolition.
I was growing increasingly frustrated with how Adam was written. First of all, his motivation for throwing that brick was totally unjustified. Oh, his girlfriend broke up with him? Actually, no, that’s not what she did. She’s going through a crisis of faith and his idiot antics of randomly saying that she’s not religious to their friends, for absolutely no reason at all, and said that she wanted a break from him. This isn’t necessarily a break-up. It’s that she wants to sort out how she feels about her faith. So his motivation for throwing that brick is horrendously weak. He’s just being an idiot. Also, he even says out loud that Jude’s family deserves to know the truth that his death was a total accident. Never mind that the motivations for starting this catastrophe were thin as enough, but the motivation for not turning himself in is arguably worse! I might give props that the dude anonymously sold himself out. Which… come to think of it, if he was going to turn himself in, what was the point of making it anonymous, and to Dave for that matter? Surly he would have figured the police would get involved. Might as well go straight to the police. Anyway, Adam’s motivations for taking as long as he did to come forward were as weak, if not weaker, than his motivations for starting all of this in the first place. And the fact that Keaton wasn’t trying to convince him to turn himself in the entire time she knew, it’s all a big heaping pile of frustration.
Overall, this is a tough one to completely wrap my mind around. It’s certainly a more… how should I say… focused movie than the previous two seemed to be. The acting is good, there is a real effort to portray the Christians and Atheists as fallible people, all capable of being forgiven for their actions, much of the plot is still a frustrating chore to get through. Sure, some scenes work well. Give me anything with Corbett drinking a Sierra Nevada beer, and I’m almost guaranteed some entertainment and charm (thanks for pointing that out, Meerkat). But without him and White interacting, it’s almost too easy to get bored and or frustrated with many of the characters and their choices. As far a recommendation is concerned, the Christian demographic will likely see this no matter what I say, but if there’s anyone like me out there, it’s a pass. Don’t see it in theaters. Rent it if you have to, but you’re not missing much if you decide to skip it entirely. It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen, but it’s definitely not the best. I’ve admittedly seen this twice, but only because I wanted to see how my friend would react to seeing this as I’m fairly certain he’s never seen a Christian film before and his feathers get ruffled when you get into a conversation about religion with him. But that’s it. I’m set for life on this movie. I ain’t seeing it again under any circumstances. God may or may not be dead, but my patience and interest most certainly are.
My honest rating for GOD’S NOT DEAD: A LIGHT IN DARKNESS: a weak 3/5
Next week’s films:
- A QUIET PLACE
- THE MIRACLE SEASON
- LEAN ON PETE
- THE WORKSHOP / L’ATELIER
- SWEET COUNTRY