Saturday, April 21, 2012

PARADISE RECOVERED? Not quite--but for a Christian movie, this one's at least worthy

The first thing we hear is one of those Christian radio broadcasts informing us that America was founded as a Christian nation. So what? It was also founded as a slave nation. Let's start again. Whoops: here's a supposedly good Christian family making a big show of praying to god--in public, yet--even though Jesus exhorted his flock not to make such a show of things but rather to pray in private. Once again it's that "direct pipeline to god" that these people claim to have that rankles TrustMovies most. But wait: As we get farther into the new-to-DVD movie PARADISE RECOVERED, it appears that the filmmakers share this view. Shockingly enough, here's a Christian film that acknowledges doubt and is willing to accept non-believers as worthwhile, without insisting on converting them. Well, at least not right away...

The film's director Storme Wood (shown at left) and writer Andie Redwine insist on giving us a wider and fairer picture of Christians, particularly the fundamentalist type, than we're used to seeing on film (try AllegedWhat If... or Suing the Devil for examples of the other sort), and the effect is bracing and worthwhile. The story deals with a young woman named Esther who has become part of a splinter sect that, the more we learn about it and its "rules," the more it begins to sound like a mash-up of the looniest parts of Christian Science, Seventh Day Adventists and low-end Christian Fundamentalism, southern style. And, yes, it turns out to be run by a television evangelist who leaves something to be desired in the ethics department.

Esther, played by Heather Wallis (above) with an interesting combination of reticence and slow-burning fire, lives with the preacher of the local branch of this sect and has become a kind of live-in maid for his family and the prospective bride for his son. But because times are bad economically, she asks if she can take a job in a local health food store, where the manager --- a nice kid named Gabriel (Dane Seth Hurlburt) -- takes a shine to her.

Young Mr. Hurlburt (above left, with Oliver Luke, who plays his goofy friend Mark) projects a genuine sweetness that never smacks of anything more or less than a decent and kind young man trying to make his way in the world--and with Esther. Hurlburt a has sweet sense of irony and a low-key charm that helps keep the movie on track. The rest of the cast, all unknown by me prior to now, are pleasantly professional and allow the movie to roll along in tune. Their characters, as written by Ms Redwine and directed by Mr. Woode, are also a bit more nuanced than one finds in many would-be Christian movies.

The preacher's son, for instance, well-played by Austin Chittim, (above, right) is no villain; he's just out for his own best interests and want to take Esther along for the ride. As pleasantly enjoyable as the movie initially is, it grows more obvious and less believable as it heads into a climax that is far too easily achieved.

Along the way there are also some too-heavy-handed scenes -- Esther's make-over (above) is one of these -- that make you wish the filmmakers had stuck with their earlier, quieter moves. (Esther also looks a hell of lot better before her supposed make-over than she does after it. Whether the director and his crew realize this is up for grabs.)

Still, it's such a nice surprise to find a religious movie that allows space and time for beliefs other than its own, that I'd recommend Paradise Recovered for this alone -- not to mention its able cast and budding talent behind the camera. Interestingly, the movie has achieved only a 2.4 rating on the IMDB. Whether this comes from fundamentalists taking out their ire on a film that finds fault with their unthinking surety, I don't know. But I wouldn't be surprised. The movie (95 minutes, from Monarch Home Entertainment) makes its DVD debut this Tuesday, April 24, after playing the 2010 Heartland and Austin Film Festivals.

2 comments:

Anna M.H. said...

I thought this movie was a gem. I randomly picked it on netflix to fall asleep to -and ended up staying up late just to finish it. While I was falling asleep (at first) I remember thinking... Wow... why did I pick this? These people are crazy (prayer scene in front of the health store) and I'm a Christian.

Then, as the movie went on I couldn't stop watching! It's obviously low budget, but it has wayyyyy better actors/actresses than I've ever seen in a low budget film (and I've watched a LOT of lifetime movies, lol). I mean, the acting is better than anything I've seen in a B-film hands down. Anyway, I'm glad I randomly watched this and think it would be a worthwhile and thought provoking movie for anyone to watch. I especially like that for a Christian movie it's not 'preachy' and exposes the holier-than-thou Christians for what they are. I get really irate with people who feel they are superior for reasons I find illogical (that they are somehow more moral, when in fact I know one hundred percent that they are just as human and imperfect as I am). Anyway, I appreciated this film's storyline and direction.

I assume that the bad rating on imdb is indeed as you suspected and from Christians apart of the holier-than-thou-our-denomination's-way-of-thinking-is-the-only-Right-way-and-only-way-to-God cults (or anyway I consider them to be very cult like); I doubt very many non-Christians have watched this movie period, much less taken the time to go to imdb to rate it. I especially like the actor Dane --he has the look Hollywood sometimes likes for darker/more dramatic films (hello, Tim Burton) and seemed the strongest actor out of the bunch (although I thought the actress who played Esther was very talented as well).

Anyway, I really enjoyed this movie. I guess when you have a good storyline and a unique perspective it doesn't matter how low your budget is. I've seen a lot of movies with (obviously) high budgets that didn't know their heads from their -- (um, the recent Transformers movies? I mean, unless you like action, like my husband, and don't care if it has a plot AT ALL as long as things blow up or there's some sort of fight every three minutes). I found this however to be delicate and subtle in all the right places... The end was a little bit less than perfect, but I can forgive that for the rest of the film... :)

James van Maanen said...

Hey, Anna--
Thanks so much for this lengthy and thoughtful comment on a movie that I do wish more people could see. Christians and non-Christians, alike. Or maybe I should say fundamentalists (of any stripe) and non-fundamentalists, alike. And I'm glad to hear you can now stream PARADISE RECOVERED via Netflix.

And I loved the section about your hubby. Action and fighting, I guess, is what keep many men awake through the end of a film. (Even I can enjoy some of that, sometimes -- although definitely NOT those idiot Transformers movies.) To each his own, as we used to say....