You’d think Risen is a movie for which spoilers would be impossible, since we all know how the book turns out, right? And yet, I found myself in something of a state of suspense now and then, wondering which direction the script would take: an unequivocal in-your-face resurrection, or a subtler approach that would leave the question open. Still no spoilers, but I did begin to bet against the subtle approach when the Shroud of Turin turned up in the empty tomb…
But okay, this was a movie made by faith-based Affirm Films, and it will no doubt have wide currency on the church-basement circuit long, long after its surprisingly successful run on the big screen fades out. Clearly it is aimed in the long term at Christian audiences—confirmed for me, for example, when both Pilate and the tribune Clavius rose out of the bath in modest loincloths rather than proper Roman buck-nakedness. Despite a few departures from scripture, like siting the ascension in Galilee, I’m pretty sure this movie will work just fine for the faithful.
But how does it work for the rest of us? After all, we live with a film industry where miracle-working superheroes and several varieties of the undead are bog-standard fare. If Harry Potter can do magic, why not the Son of God? If Spock can return from the grave, why not Yeshua? The question is whether Risen would measure up as entertainment if the supernatural element were treated the same as we would in any other fantasy. And I would have to say that the entertainment value is mixed, at best.
The good: I do have a weakness for sand-and-sandals Roman flicks, and this one started off with a dandy demonstration of the testudo formation—the tortoise—against a kind of Judaic intifada. The costumes were cool. The crosses were the right T-shape, and nails were through the wrist and not the palm. Yeshua was not a Nordic blonde. Malta and Spain, standing in for Jerusalem and Galilee, were almost relentlessly scenic.
Otherwise, meh. The disciples were a pack of goofy hippies, undistinguishable except for (a) Bartholomew, who was batshit as well as goofy, and (b) Simon Peter, who was channeling Tevye to the point where he may as well have broken into a rousing chorus of “If I Were a Rich Man.” Any attempts at comic relief were painfully unfunny. Cliff Curtis’s Yeshua was affable and rather cuddly, but had all the charisma of a kewpie doll. And I have one word for Joseph Fiennes’ performance as the spiritually conflicted Clavius: botox.
Worst of all? Risen was actually pretty dull. It died for me about halfway through, and—alas—it never did rise again.