The Erwin Brothers create faith-based movies filled with inspiration and hope. And while their latest Christian-centric biography based on a chapter in the life of worship musician Jeremy Camp, I Still Believe (C), accomplishes its goal of showcasing a moving real-life romance forged against the odds, it largely misses the mark in terms of originality and craft. KJ Apa and Britt Robertson offer earnest enough acting in their central romance filmed in a Hallmark-worthy glow but are written with such cherubic reverence that they don’t often register completely as real characters. Supporting actors Gary Sinise and Shania Twain are so underused as the leading man’s parents that it feels like they were loaned for just a day or two on set. Only Nathan Parsons as a friend, mentor and near hypoteneuse of a chaste love triangle registers as an actual conflicted human being. For a film ostensibly about overcoming illness with faith-restoring music, the film doesn’t really pulse with much of a flair for either medicine or music. When compared to a performance sequence in A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody, for instance, the big concert numbers appear strangely detached, like the crowds weren’t even filmed in sync with what’s happening on stage. It all means well, of course, and the purity of the romance at the center is really what it’s all about. But for a film that praises risk-taking, it sure plays it safe.
This is the film that finally answers the question, “Papa, can you hear me?” Octavia Spencer plays “Papa,” who quite possibly created the heavens and the earth. And the answer is “yes” in Stuart Hazeldine’s moving faith-based fantasy drama The Shack (B). Sam Worthington is an effective Everyman, and if viewers can get past his accent inconsistencies, they will appreciate his journey from desperation to hope in the wake of tragedy. The film offers a parable in the vein of The Wizard of Oz within the confines of what seems like standard-issue melodrama; and despite some mawkish moments and a bit of a “preaching to the converted” mentality, this spiritual tonic somehow washes down with grace. The diverse cast including familiar faces such as Tim McGraw and Graham Greene and game new talent such as Aviv Alush and Sumire is uniformly committed, and the film’s contemplative pace gives oxygen to its major messages. You’ve never seen many Christian themes depicted quite like this, and even the big budget effects and imagery are quite memorable. This film provides a positive and reassuring message to be cherished about heeding ancient calls to address and learn from contemporary pain.