Review: Revelation (dir. André van Heerden, 1999)

revelation1999Revelation, the second in a proposed trilogy of end-times movies written and produced by Peter and Paul Lalonde, is that rarest of films: a sequel that improves on its predecessor in just about every possible way.

Of course, such praise may sound faint when the previous film was Apocalypse, a tacky soap-opera-style collection of talking heads and recycled news footage that suffered from poor acting and cheesy ideas. But Revelation is a remarkably assured piece of filmmaking in its own right.

This is due to a number of factors, such as the considerably larger budget — Apocalypse was produced for one million dollars, Revelation for five times that amount — and the fact that it was actually shot on film, giving it the feel of a decent made-for-TV movie. But the real credit goes to the actors and to the Lalondes themselves, who display a firmer grasp of story structure and even character development this time out.

The main protagonist here is Thorold Stone (Jeff Fahey), a law enforcement officer for the One Nation Earth government, whose wife and daughter went missing when the rapture took place three months earlier. Thorold’s friends have since become convinced that Franco Macalousso (Stingray’s Nick Mancuso), the leader of this one-world movement, is the miracle-working messiah that he claims to be. But Thorold himself is not convinced.

Then strange things begin to happen. Thorold discovers that the Christians he’s just arrested for alleged terrorist activities were framed by Len Parker (David Roddis), a demonic supervillain who can walk through walls but, for whatever reason, uses a gun to bump off anyone who catches him doing his dirty work. Thing is, Parker isn’t a very good shot; Thorold survives and goes into hiding with another group of Christians who are trying to hack their way into the ‘Day of Wonders,’ the Antichrist’s global virtual-reality program.

Fahey — best known for his earlier religion-and-cyberspace horror film The Lawnmower Man — is this film’s best asset. The other actors are often saddled with stale would-be witticisms, but every word that comes out of Fahey’s mouth feels genuine, somehow. His sincere skepticism is also an intriguing change of pace from all the posturing that surrounds him; it prevents him from falling for the Antichrist’s lies, and arguably helps him to find salvation in the end.

The other actors are a mixed bunch. Roddis, reprising his role as the first film’s scenery-chewing heavy, mugs shamelessly, with all the depth and subtlety of a Jack T. Chick comic. Leigh Lewis also returns as Helen Hannah, the former reporter who became a Christian after watching her raptured grandmother’s Jack Van Impe videotape; she’s now one of the underground believers who faces death by guillotine if she is caught.

This last, rather archaic detail is the film’s most explicit nod to the end-times movies of an earlier generation. The best of them remains A Thief in the Night, the 1972 classic that, with its spooky sound effects and anxiety-inducing edits, was perfectly suited to its paranoid times. It, and its three increasingly boring and pedestrian sequels, all followed the same iffy evangelistic premise: if those in the audience became Christians now, they could avoid the mean and nasty tribulation to come.

That sort of eschatology must sound more than a little peculiar to Christians around the world for whom persecution has long been a daily reality. In any case, it’s doubtful that viewers are going to be so convinced by this film’s somewhat hokey vision of the future that they feel the need to convert. Revelation may be fine entertainment for Christians who like a good yarn, but as a witnessing tool, it’s a non-starter.

— A version of this review was first published in BC Christian News.

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