Directed by Larry A. McLean
Left Behind appears well on its way to becoming the Children of the Corn of Christian cinema.
You know, that misbegotten film franchise they just keep pumping out sequels to and reboots of even though nobody is really clamoring for it. Someone owns the rights to a name brand property and is bound and determined to milk every last penny out of it even though there’s really nothing left to milk. That poor cash cow…
Just two years removed from the last attempt to revive the most famous of Christploitation film franchises with Nicolas Cage on acting autopilot in a Rapture-themed airline disaster flick (If you don’t know what the Rapture is, don’t worry; the true believers that get the express ticket to heaven are going to leave behind flash drives containing pre-recorded videos to explain it to those left behind) comes yet another tepid attempt to reboot Left Behind, this time with a Young Adult take on the subject boasting one of the most preposterously, needlessly long movie titles in recent memory: Vanished: Left Behind – Next Generation.
Not even the Star Wars, Hobbit, or Pirates of the Caribbean films have resorted to a title that required the double whammy of both a colon and hyphen.
Not only does this re-reboot take square aim at millenials by giving us the tweener’s point-of-view of the Rapture, Vanished: Left Behind – Next Generation: At World’s End boldly goes into Mormon-inspired Twilight territory by tossing in a love triangle among our cute 15-year old heroine, her handsome blonde longtime neighbor BFF who wants to be more than just friends with promise ring benefits, and the Edward Cullen-esque homeless teen with the soulful sultry eyes that joins up with them on her trek to daddy’s house outside the city as The Rapture crumbles society into the PG-rated version of The Purge. The blandest whitest kids on the planet having the chastest ménage-a-trois you can stand–that is, until the script just completely abandons the romantic triangle in lieu of that vilest of Christian movie villains:
The Antichrist, you say? Heavens, no! The spawn of Satan doesn’t show up until the final moments in the guise of “Global Community Leader” Nicholae Carpathia (a name that screams I’m either a vampire, a Highlander villain, or the Antichrist) delivering a Cobra Commander speech in his most calming Tony Robbins voice. Nothing seems to terrify fundamentalist Christians more than the concept of the people of the earth coming together as one, even though I kind of thought that was the ultimate goal of their very faith as well. I’ll leave that debate for Sunday school.
No. Having Tribulation teenagers fight back against the Antichrist might have proved compelling. Wouldn’t want that. Instead, before that isn’t-this-what-the-whole-movie-should-have-been-about climax, these clean cut young do-gooders, but not clean or good enough to get Raptured, must contend with an arrogant, paranoid, delusional, genius, doomsday prepper atheist with a god complex. You read that correctly: The villain of this “Produced by Rick Santorum” production is an atheist with a god complex. That sounds like a hell of an oxymoron to me.
Played by Tom Everett Scott (“Z Nation”) with a certain degree of menacing, though frequently bordering on campy histrionics, our “man of facts, not fantasy or fairy tales” (wink, wink: silly religious beliefs) knew the government, society, and technology as we know it would collapse one day and his elaborate farm sanctuary would make him a beacon of hope in the brave new world he speculates to be the result of an EMP or gamma burst that has KO’d all communications on the planet and caused random people to spontaneously disintegrate. More than anything else, he just cannot handle anyone questioning his authority. If you do, he’ll slap you around and stalk you with his hunting rifle like Elmer Fudd’s The Shining.
The bulk of Vanished: Left Behind – Next Generation: The Consecration of Smaug plays out like a training wheels primer for the greater battle to come when the Antichrist makes himself known as a false prophet promising the same sense of communal safety in exchange for absolute unquestioning loyalty. Like making a Hunger Games reboot about a group of teens in a district playing paintball in the woods only for a few of them to go nuts and try killing their friends for real; then the sole survivors of that game gone wrong get home just in time to have their names drawn for the actual Hunger Games. The actual Hunger Games is the movie you should be making, not a dopey metaphorical prologue.
As was the case with the previous and seemingly unrelated Left Behind reboot with Nic Cage as Capt. “Sully” Sullennoraptureberger trying to land a crippled airplane after everyone goes poof, the story being told once again feels excessively trite given the ultimate stakes at play everywhere in the world except where our protagonists are. Even the Kirk Cameron movies got that much right.
One thing Vanished: Left Behind – Next Generation – Episode Three: Revenge of the Christ does get fairly right in a too brief, surprisingly effective sequence is the immediate chaos of the Rapture. Doing so gave me hope that would soon vanish as the film settled into a dramatically inert and spiritually superficial mix of teen romance, suspense-less mystery, sloppily assembled cat-and-mouse chase scenes, and a plethora of come-to-Jesus talks, which in a movie like this are literal come-to-Jesus talks.
Spoiler Alert: When our heroine finally locates her father and rescues him from captivity, the first quiet moment they get alone, he immediately begins giving her this oddly vague speech about how he’s now a true believer because of the amazing sights and miracles he’s experienced since a billion people vanished. By all accounts, his past couple of days consisted of getting into a car accident, being accepted into a commune run by a lunatic, being taken hostage, and then being imprisoned inside a locked box in the woods for hours at a time. I really wanted him to be a little more specific about what he’s seen that suddenly filled him such faith. I suppose when you’re locked in a box baking in the sun for days at a time, you have nothing else to do but think about the meaning of life and death.
Another tried and true trope of Rapture movies that plays out yet again here is mothers crying over their babies and small children that have vanished in a blink of an eye. However, our heroine’s 11-year-old kid sister did not get Raptured, once again leading me to ponder as I have during previous movies about the Rapture: What exactly is Jesus’ cut-off age for automatic Rapturing by virtue of childhood innocence? From the looks of this movie, that little girl is about the only preteen left on the planet. What evil thoughts must lurk in her head that she’s the one kid that didn’t get called up?
Ultimately, The Incredibly Bland Christians that Started Believing and Become Mixed-Up Tribulators squanders a capable cast of actors and falls into that unfortunate category where the best I can say is there’s nothing especially bad about it nor is there anything particularly good about it. Worst of all, it never truly justifies its own existence other than to squeeze a few more dollars out of a brand name. It exists to exist. I’m sure it will play just fine with the choir but will just be white noise to anyone else interested in watching a decent Biblical thriller. It’s no Megiddo: Omega Code 2, that’s for certain.
Honestly, I feel like I already saw the layman’s version of this premise once already this year, and it wasn’t much better when it was called The Fifth Wave.