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Rapture as horror flick

07 November 2014

by Stephen Brown


THE REMAINING (Cert. 15) is claimed to be the first-ever faith-based horror film (News, 24 October). Hardly. Universal Studio's Frankenstein (1936) begins with a "friendly warning" regarding someone "who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God". And what about The Exorcist (1973)? Plenty of faith-based frightening to be had there.

This new horror film might be more justified in seeing itself as unique (at least in modern times) in taking its inspiration from the Revelation of St John. Post-apocalypse movies such as The Road, The Book of Eli, and 28 Days Later attribute their dangerous characters' roaming bleak landscapes to natural disasters or nuclear meltdown. The Remaining is about divine judgement - or, you could say, judgementalism.

Things start to fall apart at the hotel wedding of two lapsed Roman Catholics, Dan (Bryan Dechart) and Skylar (Alexa Vega). Amid plagues more akin to Exodus 7-11 than the film's much-quoted Revelation 9, certain guests are whisked off to heaven just as the bride says "I do." Wherever did movies get the idea that couples say that rather than "I will"? Perhaps the ensuing chaos wouldn't have happened if they had got the vows right and married in church.

The film argues that it is self-inflicted demons doing the damage; but why does the Lord save only some from the Great Ordeal, and then pick on a few hedonistic youngsters to take the rap for the total sum of human wickedness? Either way, it doesn't put God in a very good light, as the world subsequently turns into hell.

These Leftovers have choices to make. Believe (but in what?) or be damned. As the director and co- writer Casey La Scala - best known for Donnie Darko - ratchets up the tribulations, conversions start happening. Even so, things still get worse. It all seems too late. The film is uncomfortable viewing if your conclusions from scripture don't envisage the God of love as wreaking vengeance on Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and others who haven't accepted Jesus as their personal saviour. St John's vision of the new heaven and new earth appears to use contemporary apocalyptic symbolism in order to subvert it. Arguably, his intention was not to frighten the life out of us, but to encourage worshippers of the sovereign Lord to engage with a tormented world and find a way through it. What kind of compassionate Christians who have been saved could enjoy their Rapture if, as the film has it, all "non-believers" are put through hell?

Of course, such a theme provides an opportunity to open a cinematic box of tricks: lots of things go crash, bang, wallop. In this respect, this film differs little from last year's Left Behind, and others about mass destruction.

The Remaining soft-pedals any understanding of Revelation which would sees God's desire as for the healing of the nations rather than their obliteration. If cinema-goers want the equivalent of a page-turning novel, it is a romp. But the Christianity portrayed here is based on fear of hell, not love of Jesus.

On release from today.

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