Reviewing faith-based movies can be tricky to say the least. I don’t think I’m going to shock anyone by saying that faith-based movies can be very, very, very difficult to pull off correctly. Usually faith-based movies end up one of two ways. One, it is so inept in its message that it becomes hilarious and cannot be taken seriously (see Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas). Two, the movie becomes hateful and meanspirited to anyone that doesn’t follow the movie’s chosen faith and will shame you for it (see God’s Not Dead).
But if you’re a religious person, who am I to tell you that you can’t find spiritual meaning in a movie. Maybe the messages and values being preached in the God’s Not Dead franchise hit you in all the right ways. I don’t feel it’s right for me to invalidate your experience with a movie just because we have differing ideals. So let’s just agree right off the bat about something. I am not going to make any religious commentary or discuss the validity of faith here. All I’m going to do is talk about the movie as a movie and not as a piece of Christian filmmaking. Are we good? Can we do that?
If so, then it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for me to tell you that God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness, it pretty dull and lifeless, but at least I wasn’t offended by it. Progress…?
God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
Director: Michael Mason
Release Date: March 30, 2018
Where the previous two God’s Not Dead movies were about debating an atheist professor and a courtroom case about the separation of Church and State, A Light in Darkness decides to talk about hate crimes for 100 minutes. Reverend Dave’s church gets attacked in the middle of the night by a drunk college student who’s bitter about his girlfriend giving him the cold shoulder. This dick accidentally sets the church on fire and kills one of the reverends. The nearby college administration decides to try and demolish the school because of how it could spark more outrage and hate crimes, but Reverend Dave isn’t having any of it. He decides to do everything in his power to keep his church open in spite of mounting controversy and decides to even recruit his atheist brother to make a legal case against the college.
I will give credit to A Light in Darkness for actually putting character and drama first and foremost. There are some theological debates about the nature of God and what faith really is, but I actually thought that both sides had valid points. In the previous movies, the movie painted atheists as evil people that deserve to get cancer or hit by a car (I so wish I was joking), but there’s more of a sense of respect between the two sides here that I did not expect.
There’s even a genuine effort to make all of our characters flawed but relatable. When the head of the university gets a brick through his window because he opposes the Church, you feel for him and understand how scared he actually is about the whole situation. Plus, when Reverend Dave discovers who attacked his Church, you can fully understand why he does what he does.
You might believe after everything I’ve said that A Light in Darkness might actually be a passable, if mediocre, movie. If you’re thinking that, let me just stop you right there and let me describe to you how much of a dirge this movie is to sit through. Nearly every scene in the movie involves the cast moping around being depressed or sad about what’s happening with the Church. Reverend Dave is sad, the head of the university is sad, the attacker’s girlfriend is sad, everyone is sad. There is no joy or levity on display. It’s just one mopey scene after the other.
And I get it, this is meant to be a serious movie about serious issues, but there was not a single joke or funny scene to break up the despair. John Corbett, who plays Dave’s brother Pearce, brightens up a few scenes he’s in with his personality, but it’s all just a slog to get through. Remember, even Schindler’s List, a movie about the horrors of the Holocaust, had some jokes and levity to it in the beginning. A Light in Darkness is just unrelenting in its misery.
For the last half hour, I kept wondering not how it was going to end, but when it would end. I never thought that a cast of so few characters would need too much resolution, but let it be said that A Light in Darkness actually cares about the struggles that its characters go through. It just so happens that there’s literally nothing else besides examining each character and why they each feel so sad. It’s even weirder that there’s so much time with spent with the characters because the basic plot is just a rehash of the second movie. God’s Not Dead 2 was all about a legal case to prove that Jesus existed, so did we really need to have another movie dedicated to the same idea?
But the real kicker is that there is no question about God’s existence. No one asks if God is dead or alive, cause it doesn’t even matter here. The entire focus on Christianity feels like an afterthought. It doesn’t even feel like a faith-based movie half of the time. It just feels like a made-for-TV movie that somehow made it to the big screen, which I would never have said about the first two movies. Say what you will about how offensive they could be, but they at least felt like they belonged in theatres.
Honestly, I’m a bit bummed. I won’t say I expected a trainwreck of a movie, but I at least expected something. When I left the theatre, I couldn’t even muster up a shrug for what I saw. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t good, it wasn’t even meh. I felt nothing watching God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness. But then I had to ask myself if an offensive movie was worse than a movie without a soul. Make no mistake, this is a soulless movie. More soulless than whatever being greenlit a Teen Titans Go! movie.
And truthfully, I’m going to forget about this movie in a few hours. It happened, I saw it, I’ll probably forget I even saw this movie in a week, and I’ll move on to worse movies. When a movie spends all of its time trying to make you feel bad for its characters, it’s draining. I’m just drained trying to explain why you shouldn’t go see a movie that you’re probably not going to see. So just don’t so it. Simple as that.