‘Left Behind’ Review: God-enfreude

Christian cinema is an odd duck. It’s made with a very specific audience in mind and caters to that audience’s interests and lifestyle and beliefs, often at the exclusion of everyone else’s. It tends to celebrate one particular religion and the capacity it has to improve people’s lives. That’s all well and good. If nothing else, one has to applaud the genre – which is often derided for its low production values, amateurish acting and simplistic stories – for emphasizing positivity.

So the Left Behind franchise is a bit of a boggle. It’s a huge, heaping spoonful of schadenfreude that sticks out like a sore thumb against all the Fireproofs and God’s Not Deads of the world. Whereas the prosthelytizing tone of many Christian movies emphasizes the capacity of non-believers and lost souls to be saved by giving themselves over to Christ, Left Behind focuses almost entirely on the people who just didn’t listen, and now have to sit through the end of days. The first story in this long-spanning franchise doesn’t have a subtitle, but if it did, I suspect it would be Left Behind: Suck It, Atheists.

The new movie adaptation of Left Behind takes place on the day of The Rapture, in which good Christians vanish all over the world simultaneously, leaving behind a pile of clothes and presumably all of their fillings and pacemakers. Those who were “left behind” are forced to contend with the disasters that mount from the ensuing panic, including riots, looting and planes falling out of the sky. Nicolas Cage plays a pilot trying to avert a mid-air disaster, while his daughter, played by Cassi Thomson, has a crisis of faith after her Born Again mother and little brother disappear along with millions of others. (The movie doesn’t show what happens in countries with low Christian populations like Saudi Arabia or Japan, so presumably they go about their business like nothing happened.) 

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The immediacy of Left Behind’s timeline and emphasis on the chaos that follows The Rapture might theoretically make for a fun movie. If nothing else, you would expect the sudden, life-altering revelation that God is real and it’s too late to apologize for doubting him would give Nicolas Cage an excuse to Mega Act again, but he takes the material seriously this time out. Presumably he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. 

But Left Behind is a feather ruffling movie. It’s a wagging finger in the face of non-believers designed to elicit “Mmm-hmm’s” from its target demographic, and hopefully scare everyone else into giving The Bible another chance. It’s not a sweet tale of Christianity saving souls, it’s actually pretty mean-spirited, exploiting an audience that supposedly defines themselves by forgiveness with the temptation to watch everyone who ever doubted their beliefs suffer horribly.

It’s also a shabby production. Nicolas Cage provides quite a bit of star power but the sets are cheap, the special effects are sometimes laughable and even the sound is off. The ADR is sometimes mixed wrong, making people standing in the same room as one another sound like they’re coming in through an intercom. The extras are all overactors who distract from the stars in the foreground. The incidental details are bizarre, like a looter who grabs two cheap shirts while everyone else absconds with plasma screen TVs. And the script is both thin and padded. It takes way too long for The Rapture to strike, so it seems laughably random when it finally does occur.

But it’s worth noting that although the entire premise of Left Behind depends on the conceit that all Atheists are wrong, it doesn’t actually demonize them. The protagonists make reasonable arguments for their lack of faith, and although they are pretty darned smug about it, some of the Christians in the film are also depicted as being genuinely obnoxious before they vanish. 

Although it’s hard to get over just how entertained we’re supposed to be by watching non-believers pay for their sins, it’s also worth appreciating that here at least is a Christian movie that’s actually trying to entertain as much as it preaches. Left Behind plays like a disaster movie first and foremost. It’s not a “good” disaster movie but at least some effort was made to have fun with the premise.

It will be fun for some audiences to pick apart Left Behind for its many inadequacies. It’s a low-quality movie with mostly bad acting and tons of amusing details, like the fact that the sun is sometimes shining brightly at 8:30pm even though it’s nighttime in the rest of the film. (The filmmakers put a digital clock in front of a sunny window, making the mistake even more obvious.) The intention to make a Roland Emmerich-styled Christian movie may have been laudable but the talent, and certainly the budget, just wasn’t available to turn that dream into a reality. It’s bad alright, but not so bad it’s good. It’s just so bad it’s bad. And that’s too bad.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline’s Film Channel and the host of The B-Movies Podcast and The Blue Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.