Risen review

Risen_2016_posterIf the Bible were a comic book and religion were a fandom, Risen would be of the “strictly for fanboys” variety. Meaning that the pious will enjoy seeing a faith-positive film that looks, for better or for worse, like mainstream fair. But for those of us who aren’t very Biblically-enthused there isn’t much to enjoy.

Joseph “Not Ralph” Fiennes plays Clavius, an officer of Pontius Pilate’s high command. In the days after the crucifixion of Jesus, the body disappears under mysterious circumstances, and it’s Clavius’ responsibility to figure out where it went. If Jesus’ followers come to believe that their leader rose from the grave, fulfilling his prophecy, then the kingdom will surely fall victim to madness. Clavius, with the help of his fellow officer, Lucius (Draco Malfoy), proceed to spend the bulk of the film asking people if they’ve seen Jesus, and then asking more people if they’ve seen Jesus. Eventually, some of the people that they ask are like “yeah I know Jesus,” and Clavius is forced to regard the claims of Jesus’ divinity a little more seriously … especially after he runs into Jesus.

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I’m positive that the film is faithful to its source material (especially since the pre-show entertainment featured websites advertising “faith-based resources for Risen“), and as Christian studio films go, this is a very big step above things like the Left Behind series. Joseph Fiennes, while not Ralph, is still a pretty big get for a project like this, and he does decent enough work. In fact, most of the cast (which is decidedly more diverse than other recent Bible adaptations) do a serviceable job. Usually, films like this end up being so tone-shy that the performers can’t really dig into the material, but Risen is, once again, a step above its peers. Sure there are a few after school special-ers running around, but over all the cast gets the job done. Draco Malfoy > Kirk Cameron.

Despite being bored out of my wits for much of the film (seriously, nothing happens), I was stunned by the use of sets and locations. Nothing was shot with particular verve or style, but the fact that my internal green-screen detector wasn’t going crazy at all times is really saying something. I’ve been unable to find any literature regarding where this was shot, but much of the architecture seems to be genuine. That’s not something I can say about many movies anymore, and I applaud Risen for reminding me that, in a time where we can depict anything, great effect can be evoked simply by showing something.

Risen is the type of movie that will be played for older Sunday School students, right when they’re at the age when they begin to be “over it” in the religious sense. These children will all breathe a sigh of relief when their teacher puts on a movie and it’s markedly better than anything that has ever graced the church VCR (yes, the church I’ve imagined for this metaphor is lousy with VCRs). But even if it is the best film of its type, it’s not broadly appealing, and the non-religious moviegoer is likely to find it as bland as I did.

RisenĀ opens in Philly theaters today.

Official site

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Author: Dan Scully

Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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