**This review may contain spoilers.**
I could approach this review in one of two ways. I could focus on the philosophical issues that this film attempts to answer but fails at doing; after all, as an atheist, I detected A LOT of issues. Or I could put aside my worldview and review the film for the message it really is trying to convey. I think it's fair to do the latter, so read on for my breakdown. (I will raise some issues with the philosophy presented as it relates to the credibility of the film.)
I was actually surprised when you consider it against the gaggle of other Christian films out there that really believe they're serving up acting worthy of the Holy Trinity. With the exception of the protagonist's father, everyone turned in a good performance. Everyone seemed like they had at least some training behind them, and it made for some interesting and believable moments. I want to highlight that this isn't common in Christian films, or at least in the hundreds I have seen.
The psychotic trio was interesting. There were aspects of their performance that were good, such as when they were interacting with John. The leader was the most credible of the three. But then there were aspects that were silly. For example, I understand why they gave them all heavily Southern accents, but they didn't pull them off well. What you ended up with was people who sounded like they learned the accent a few days ago because they knew their paycheck depended on them using it.
John's friends, the Christian girl and the heathen guy, were very annoying. All they did was spend the entire movie bickering over who was more right in their worldview. It was clear what the director was attempting to do by playing them against each other.
It was hackneyed. You can go on Hulu or Netflix and find a dozen films based on a kidnapping plot, so this wasn't anything to write home about. The only difference here is that Jesus is injected into the mix to supposedly make it more interesting. (It didn't.)
Again, this was good in comparison with other Christian films. In fact, it was good in comparison to other films of the same budget level. Usually with Christian films -- think anything put out by Kirk Cameron – you’re presented with juvenile filmography: poor angles, terrible scenery, ridiculous special effects. This movie didn't have special effects, but everything was nice to look it. Hell, the film was in HD. How many Christian films are even at that level now?
The most notable was the bickering guy and girl friends of John. Early on, their bickering is based on one person being positive and another being negative. However, as the film progressed, the bickering turned into a battle of good and evil, with the girl being good and the guy being evil. And if they left it at that, I guess it would have been fine. However, they took it to incredible heights. The girl sounded so hammy, and the guy sounded so ridiculous in trying to portray evil incarnate. You end up finding out that they both were figments of John's imagination; they were the proverbial angel and devil sitting on the shoulder, battling for the heart and soul of John. So this begs the question of how the youth leader was able to hear the guy's heckling during the prayer.
The second issue is that the movie does play on hackneyed tropes: Believers have all the answers and live happy, contented lives. Unbelievers (in Christianity) are dense and filled with rage, ostensibly because they're missing something in their life. If they weren't so overt with the comparisons, it would have been better.
The third issue is that John raises some interesting points about why someone wouldn't believe in the Christian God, but these points are never addressed; in fact, they're brushed aside by pretty much everyone in the movie and are responded to with what equates to, "Jesus loves you. Can't you trust in him?"
The fourth issue, and it's a big one for me, is the extenuating steps this movie took to mask itself as a Christian film, i.e., engage in deception. In fact, I've never seen another Christian film go this far. First, the cover art really doesn't give the impression that this is a Christian film. Second, the synopsis doesn't either, though if you squint hard enough, you may infer from the word "redemption" that something may be amiss. Third, there are actually several instances of swearing. You NEVER see this in Christian films. Fourth, killings happen, too. If you don't pay too much attention, you'd think you were watching a regular movie, though you'd notice the lack of gratuitous cursing that exists in every other non-religious movie.
The reason this is a big issue is that the film is arguing the truth of the Christian religion, but it goes about it through deception, by sucking you in with behaviors that regular people engage in. I actually find it sad, because this smells of desperation. Christian filmmakers have to employ some of the same behaviors as non-Christian filmmakers just to get people to watch. It's like the recent controversy of the gospel artist Tasha Cobbs collaborating with rapper Nicki Minaj. This is no longer about the gospel; this is about selling tickets.
And the final issue is one that common to most Christian films: lack of diversity. There were a total of two black people in the entire film, and I didn’t notice any other minorities. Christian filmmakers need to learn that the world is diverse; hell, there are more brown people on the planet than there are non-brown people. Everyone need not be white in order to make it a good film. Again, learn to be diverse.
What saved this movie from getting fewer stars is the acting and filmography. It was superb in comparison with other Christian films. However, the multitude of issues is what took it to three stars. If the director stopped trying so hard and allowed the movie to unfold naturally, I think it would have turned out better.