Overview: A biblical event causes the instantaneous disappearance of the world’s true Christians. Freestyle Releasing; 2014; Rated PG-13; 111 Minutes.
Let’s Pretend This is About a Movie: There are shots of the plane flying smoothly that look as though hidden strings would be evident if the film were paused. There’s an out-of-nowhere break dance scene (I shit you not). And, on paper, the most appealing thing about this movie is its star. Inexplicably, Nic Cage takes top billing in this video pamphlet, and his performance here isn’t the worst in his career. Here, Cage, who plays an airline pilot by the name of (and I still shit you not) Captain Steele, is set against an admittedly creepy Armageddon premise. In all fairness, Left Behind contextualizes the immediate aftermath of the Rapture in a way that is slightly more creepy than HBO’s The Leftovers, a somewhat profound (if unfair) cable series which borrows Left Behind’s central conceit gutted of spiritual significance. All of this, together, might be a solid recipe for a cult classic s0-bad-it’s-fun campy sci fi/horror exercise. But the problem? Left Behind doesn’t want to be liked. Odds are, it doesn’t like you. So…
Let’s Stop Pretending This is About a Movie: As I understand it (and correct me in the comments if I’m wrong), the Rapture is a hard cutoff. Once the Christians are taken, no one else is getting in. The Rapture has no narrative or spiritual purpose. It’s the express delivery option of judgment day. The modern Rapture, which comes complete with a tribulation period, is an extra layer in certain denominations’ strategy of shaming and fear (it’s also a Biblically-unsupported modern invention, but I’ll let you do that research on your own). That’s why this movie, in which God removes his favorites from earth, presents a main conflict that has nothing to do with its characters’ spiritual health. It’s just about whether these damned souls will land this damned plane back onto the damned planet.
This Movie Isn’t Even About A Movie: It’s about Captain Steele, the dirty philanderer, and his sassy, conveniently stupid, atheist daughter Chloe. It’s about the “backsliding” pastor and the awkwardly angry little person with a gambling problem. And mostly, from my perspective, it’s about Hassid (played by Alec Rayme, a real gem), whose presence in this movie I just can’t seem to shake. Hassid is a devoutly faithful and good man, but a man of non-Christian faith. Hassid quietly practices his religion on the plane, urges the other passengers to pray but will not distinguish to which God, offers to pray for other distraught passengers, and is the coolest, most compassionate passenger on the manifest. His faith isn’t built on the pearl clutching and discriminatory judgment that defines the characters who hitch a ride to paradise twenty minutes in. It is a quiet, non-judgmental faith. I don’t know if Hassid came from the book or the script, and I’m not researching. But he is an invention of writers who can make him purely good just so they can also damn him to hell.
This Damned Movie: As a critic and editor-in-chief, I’ve urged my colleagues here at Audiences Everywhere to always come from a place wherein they are attempting to like the movie they’re reviewing. That rule doesn’t apply to this movie, because this movie doesn’t extend the same courtesy. Left Behind wants its audience to be afraid and ashamed of its own humanity. It wants the entirety of its audience to feel as if they’re not good enough. So this movie can go fuck itself.
Editor’s Note: I had the good fortune of viewing this movie in an empty theater, so I live-tweeted my initial reaction. If you’d like to see my unfiltered responses in real time just, search Twitter hashtag #LeftBehindLiveTweet.