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Hillsong" Let Hope Rise Review

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise

Genre: Drama, Musical

Director: Michael John Warren

Cast: Joel Houston, Jonathon "JD" Douglass, Taya Smith, Jad Gillies, Matt Crocker, Dylan Thomas, Michael Guy Chislett, Simon Kobler, Timon Klein, Benjamin Tennikoff

MPAA-Rating: PG

Release Date: September 16th, 2016

When the Bough Breaks Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall
There are smart characters who make terrible decisions in movies and then there are characters like John Taylor in When the Bough Breaks. Here is a character who is happily married, healing
rich and successful. Despite that, pills
 he continually makes reckless and terrible decisions to the point where you question his intelligence and sanity.

Played by Morris Chestnus, capsule
John is one half of a beautiful young couple who unfortunately can’t bear children of their own. His wife is Laura (Regina Hall), a woman who has suffered through three miscarriages and years of trying to have her own child. Her emotions are real and poignant. “You actually start to hate your own body,” she says tearfully to Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair), a young woman who has offered to serve as a surrogate for the couple.

The issue for the Taylors though is that Anna is a psychopath. Beneath her friendly smile and naïve personality, she’s a monster. After Anna’s fiancé attacks her, the Taylors offer her a home with them during the duration of the pregnancy.

When Anna is left alone with John, her jealous personality comes to life leading him into trouble. Being a reasonable adult with a strong-headed wife and a child on the way, one would think that John would talk to his wife about Anna’s erratic behavior. He doesn’t. When he finds out about her past, one would think that John would immediately cut ties with her. He doesn’t. When he realizes what he’s up against, one would think John would start thinking clearly. He doesn’t.

Time and again, John makes obvious mistakes that any reasonable person would’ve avoided. Director Jon Cassar, who previously directed fifty-nine episodes of the original 24 series, was at the helm here and he tries to create a slow-building tension between the three main characters. He does a wonderful job capturing Laura’s state of mind — Hall’s performance is the best aspect of this film — but he fails to keep all of the plot pieces together here. Laura disappears on and off during the film’s second half and when she does appear, she seems clueless about how her once friendly relationship with Anna has transformed into something much darker.

The script by Jack Olsen doesn’t help as it repeatedly relies on John’s undeniable naivety and stupidity to make sense. This feature would’ve been a lot shorter if John started acting as reasonably intelligent after Anna starts obsessing over him. Instead, the plot relies on him making one mistake after another and not realizing how instane Anna has become.

It also doesn’t help that the climax of the film is relentlessly over the top. When Anna finally confronts Laura, the circumstances are beyond outrageous. In order to get there, the plot asks you to believe unbelievable things (Why did no one smell a dead body next door? Why aren’t the police involved earlier?).

This movie won’t hold up to the similar fare we’ve seen in this genre before. Movies like Fatal Attraction (1987) offer a similar plot — crazy woman becomes obsessed with a married man — but at least that one offered a somewhat-reasonable plot and original elements. When the Bough Breaks is a tired addition to the genre, which is quite disappointing considering that Regina Hall does a fine job in her limited time onscreen.

The new documentary Hillsong: Let Hope Rise offers a personal and poignant look at the successful Christian band Hillsong United.

During the opening text of the new documentary Hillsong:  Let Hope Rise, find
the text onscreen notes that the film is “intended as a theatrical worship experience.” It adds that “the filmmakers welcome your participation.” In that way, this new movie is different than many traditional documentaries that expose viewers to a truth they might otherwise not know. This movie is intended to explore the positive religious message of the Hillsong community and the Hillsong United musical group.

The feature opens up with an introduction to the Church that started it all. Founded in 1983, the Hillsong Church (which actually began under another name) started in Australia with less than 100 congregants. It was co-founded by Brian and Bobbie Houston. The couple wanted to spread the message of Jesus Christ and slowly but surely, their message spread from their city to the international community. Helping spread their Gospel message is Hillsong United, a musical group that began at the Church but that has found supporters — and followers — around the world.

The group spreads the Church’s message about Jesus in venues across the globe where people come together to praise Christ.

In the feature’s first hour, the story explores some of the personal lives of the singers and shows the personal struggles they’ve faced. From having children with health problems to the fact that they experience financial hardships despite their fame (“It’s not worth what we’re getting paid,” member Jad Gillies states), the feature shows the struggles of these band members. Just because they are successful doesn’t mean that they don’t have struggles and the story shows these — revealing that religious faith doesn’t suddenly make a person’s life perfect.

Some religious movies present faith as an end-all, presenting characters who experience divine intervention getting the wonderful lives they’ve always wanted. Hillsong doesn’t sugarcoat that idea. In fact, the members still have great questions about the universe and know that their faith alone doesn’t answer them all. As guitarist Jonathon Douglass states, life often doesn’t make sense but “more stuff doesn’t make sense without Him.”

One of the film’s most compelling stars is singer Taya Smith, a young woman who hesitantly moved to Australia and became an integral part of the group. Her passion for the Gospel and her enthusiasm are hard to forget. “I just love Jesus,” she says, “I love his presence. I love the fact that we get to sing and just worship him.” In one of the movie’s most memorable moments, Smith stands out on stage singing Oceans, one of the group’s most well-known and successful songs.

For fans of the group, this documentary presents a deeper and more personal portrait of them while offering some of the band’s best known songs. For others who are just learning about the group (such as myself), this feature offers a strong introduction to them and their message.

Some of the most memorable moments of the story is when director Michael John Warren(who previously directed the Jay-Z documentary Fade to Black) focuses the camera in on the audience. At some of these concerts, there are thousands of people who are touched by the music, proudly singing the lyrics and worshipping Jesus.  As Taya states, “he gives me purpose. He gives me a greater sense of hope that I’m not by myself.” That hope — and the faith that defines it — is on display throughout Hillsong: Let Hope Rise.

Review by: John Hanlon