Mark Matlock reviews “The Remaining”

Youth Specialties
September 8th, 2014

The Remaining is the latest in a line of movies based on Christian themes. There is no doubt that Hollywood has figured out that Christians are willing to come out for movies that promise what many Christians hope for in a film, an opportunity to share the Christian faith with their friends and neighbors.

If you haven't seen the trailer yet, you can watch it HERE.

The Remaining differs from most Christian films I’ve seen to date. The film is a supernatural thriller bordering on the horror genre and that alone is unique. I am presented with many films to screen each year, and most of the time my kids (teenagers themselves) have no interest in them. Talking them into viewing The Remaining was different; they were intrigued and easily persuaded to watch with me. I had no idea where the evening would take us as a family, and in all honesty I was surprised.

Let me explain…

The Remaining is LOOSELY based on a rapture-like occurrence. This is important to understand. I interviewed screenwriter Chris Dowling, (no surprise he’s been a youth worker in his church) who affirmed my hunch. The film is not meant to be an accurate portrayal or interpretation of The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The Remaining is a teen oriented, supernatural thriller capturing the events of several lives in the aftermath of a worldwide catastrophe. It is filmed as if in real time, piecing together footage that you assume might be from a cell-phone camera or a GoPro.

Some who hold to eschatological views other than a pre-tribulation rapture may struggle with the film’s premise, but so will pre-tribulationists. If you think of The Remaining more as a movie about faith and authenticity rather than the actual events of scripture, then the movie becomes much more palatable for the theologically minded. It’s a solid scare flick of good quality that teens will most likely want to watch, and it will raise questions—loads of questions. At least it did in my house, and I believe movies that raise questions are always good.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the film. Let’s just say that the characters that “remain” do quite a bit of soul searching regarding the nature of their belief as they try to survive the aftermath of unimaginable events.

Our family munched popcorn, jumped and screamed in all the right places and finishing the film satisfied. Everything tied up in the end a little too neatly for my taste, falling prey to the problem facing most faith based films. But I watched a pre-release of the film a few months ago, so they may have tweaked the ending.

Paul wrote to the Romans that faith comes by hearing, something in all my years of evangelism I have found to be true. My example and witness is essential, but at some point, faith comes through hearing the good news. This is a dilemma for screenwriters. Movies are better when they “show” rather than “tell”, but at some point, dialog takes over. Genuine coming to faith in Christ is hard to show visually, and never feels “right” in most cinematic expressions, even in other genres.  I would have been fine if they’d left things more open ended, but I am sure they felt they had to “land the plane” with more clarity. In talking with Chris Dowling about his approach to screenwriting, I got the impression the editing process may have gotten the best of the intended script.  

The movie ends and the first thing my daughter asks, “Is that the way it’s really going to happen?” My daughter, who doesn’t often initiate conversations like this, engaged me in a dialogue that lasted several hours and continues to this day. I can’t remember the last time that happened. We didn’t just discuss eschatology; we talked about authenticity and true faith. Many of the characters struggle with this question throughout the film, and I could see that my daughter and son were really intrigued by it. Were they afraid of being left behind? Was fear motivating our discussions? I couldn’t determine and I’m not sure they could either. Afterall, this was just a thriller, not a movie necessarily about Christianity. But I do know that they were very interested in the difference between going through the motions of faith and being true believers. What followed is a fairly intimate conversation I think I’ll keep within our family’s circle of trust to save my children any further grief I’ve already heaped upon them by bringing them into this review. But as a youth worker and father, these are the conversations I long for with my children and teens.

Can I guarantee that the same will happen for you? No, I can’t. But I did like the direction this movie was taking faith based films and I see a long line of them coming out in the future. I hope they continue to improve and become more appealing to those outside the church as well. I think it’s important to get behind our brothers and sisters in Christ, like screenwriter Chris Dowling, who are in the mainstream media. Hopefully their success will give them more opportunities to refine their craft and continue making films that have a deeper subtext.

Most likely this will be a movie teens inside and outside the church will want to see. It’s scary and that is always appealing to the risk taking, thrill seeking side of adolescents. It’s best if we are ready to engage their minds after they see it.

If you do have conversations with your students about The Remaining, check out the discussion guide that AFFIRM films put together for youth workers. You can download it for FREE by clicking HERE




 Mark Matlock is the Executive Director of Youth Specialties, the founder of PlanetWisdom, an author, a long-time youth worker, and a semi-retired illusionist. 

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