Cinema Dispatch: Samson

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Samson and all the images you see in this review are owned by Pure Flix Entertainment

Directed by Bruce Macdonald

The surest sign of God’s existence is that I managed to go through all of 2017 without seeing a Pure Flix film, though the favor I managed to accrue with the man upstairs seems to have run out as I’m stuck here on the precipice of not just one, but TWO Pure Flix films; starting with the epic retelling of one of the Old Testament’s biggest figures.  Hey, at least it’s not taking place in modern day and pretending that Christianity is the most oppressed religion in America.  That’s gonna wait for the NEXT movie they come out with this year; God’s Not Dead 3 (THE RE-DEAD-EN-ING).  Still, this is Pure Flix we’re talking about and their track record is utterly abysmal even with their less outwardly bigoted films being mediocre at best.  Do they have a chance of capturing the magic that makes the story of Samson worth telling in the first place?  Yeah… probably not, but let’s find out!!

The movie follows the story of Samson (Taylor James) who… I guess is a super hero?  Actually, he’s more like Achilles in that his parents (Rutger Hauer and Lindsay Wagner)  did SOMETHING to him as a child that got him God’s favor and made him the strongest man alive, though in order to keep his gifts he has to follow three rules; no drinking, no touching dead bodies, and no cutting his hair.  Seems a bit arbitrary, especially since none of these were important enough rules to put on those tablets Moses had, but it DOES work as Samson periodically kicks ass for The Lord and will hopefully someday drive the Philistines out of Israel.  Of course, with Samson being a young man with a rocking bod, he often gets distracted along the way and must deal with foxy ladies including Taren (Frances Sholto-Douglas) and Delilah (Caitlin Leahy), a pissed off prince with STRONG urge to stab his dad (Jackson Rathbone), and of course the current king of the Philistines (Billy Zane) who’s keeping a careful eye on this Jewish Savior.  Will Samson avoid the temptations of the world and be the champion that Israelites need?  Who is this Delilah woman, and what does she plan to do to Samson once she has him under his spell?  Is it just me, or does this sound more like the backstory to action figure more than anything else?

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“I HAVE THE POWEEEEEERRRR!”

I’m loath to say anything even MILDLY positive about a Pure Flix film, but this is by far the least offensive one I’ve seen from them.  Now it’s still offensive in bits and pieces here and there, either due to the nature of the story or Pure Flix’s own innate prejudices that can’t help but bubble forth to the surface, but for the most part this is just a painfully boring and uninspired retelling of a story that frankly could have been told SO much better than it was here.  Look, I didn’t know the first thing about this story other than that one episode of The Simpsons where the title spoofs the tale’s name (Simpson and Delilah from season two) so maybe I’m missing the GRAVE SIGNIFICANCE of this story and why it was worth adapting by this hack studio, at least the same way I can get why movies about Jesus are significant, but even I can tell that what strengths are in this material were completely squandered by Pure Flix and what we get is a film that is a SUPER corny but ultimately dull affair, and wouldn’t be worth your money even if it was made by a studio that WASN’T run by a bunch of self-righteous bigots.

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Aurora Borealis!?  At THIS time of year!?

The biggest problem with this movie (other than being made by complete monsters) is that it’s completely lacking in any sort of artistic merit or even the slightest hint of passion.  Despite its source material, it is completely lacking in the kind gravitas that you get by portraying TRUE religious conviction that you need your audience to FEEL for a movie like this to work.  Darren Aronofsky’s Noah managed to pull that off, and I’d even say films like Eraserhead and Donnie Darko have strong spiritual components that shine through in its absurd and frightening imagery.  Contemporary Christian culture is stagnant in just how little it cares to challenge its audience, advocate for a humble worldview, or think about faith and spirituality on any deeper level than how much they can use it to hurt, belittle, and lord over others.  Pure Flix, coming DIRECTLY out of that vacuum of culture, continues to give them exactly what they want as this film doesn’t have the nerve to get weird, be scary, or ask its audience to think about what Samson’s story means and how it can relate to us here in the twenty first century.  It’s bare bones; even in places where it really didn’t have to be.  I mean, this is a RELIGIOUS movie!  They couldn’t afford a CHOIR!?  All the music in this is stock action movie tunes that don’t add anything of value to the movie when something with a bit more soul and reverence could have at least bumped up the religious intensity of certain scenes, but instead they wanted to make something that was as close as possible to a generic action blockbuster, which… well done I guess?

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Well now WHO’S gonna clean up this mess!?

The ONLY time this movie comes to life is when it goes all in on the action scenes which are few and far between.  The highlight of the entire film is right in the middle when Samson is killing COUNTLESS Philistine soldiers with nothing more than a bone in his hand and an undying fury in his eyes!  It’s a total rip off of Zack Snyder’s style considering the copious amount of slow motion kills, but it’s one of the few times that the movie actually comes to life and gives you something worth engaging with.  Outside of that though, everything looks like a crappy student film with boring costumes, TERRIBLE fake beards, and sets so small and lifeless I’m convinced at least sixty percent of this movie was filmed in David AR White’s backyard; using gussied up tents and Styrofoam swords to bring us all back to ancient times!  At the time of writing, Pure Flix still hasn’t released the budget of this film so we have no idea if the shoddy look of everything was due to limited resources or woeful mismanagement, but even with what we ACTUALLY see on screen, they STILL could have done a hell of a lot more.  Is the low budget a reason why important characters drop in and out of this film constantly?  Is there any reason why the pacing chugs along at an erratic pace; focusing on inane details one minute and then jumping ahead with little to no fanfare?  If the money was tight, why did they waste the opening moments of this film on a completely extraneous action scene from a poor man’s Assassin’s Creed knock off instead of establishing anything about these characters or the world they inhabit?  Maybe some people will know what a Judge means in this context or take it for granted that Samson’s parents apparently did some super power ritual off-screen to give him these God given gifts, but I’m not one of those people and the movie never convinced me that it WASN’T silly that his super powers were dependent on him NOT cutting his hair.  Even Bayonetta was allowed to get a haircut, and her CLOTHES were made out of her hair!

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I REALLY don’t want to see this dude’s Wicked Weaves…

Now some might say it’s a bit cheap to judge this film too harshly for its story.  After all, storytelling was a whole lot different back in the time of the Old Testament, so a faithful adaptation would come across as having an odd pace and structure to it.  On top of that, social mores and values have changed since that time (or at least since the time since this translation of this story has been widely available), so making an adaptation like this that will fit with twenty-first century values is akin to ice skating uphill in an avalanche while juggling chainsaws!  Can a Samson movie be made nowadays despite several aspects of the story feeling very much a product of their time?  Sure!  But Pure Flix didn’t do that here, and considering the type of morally bankrupt dreck they’ve released under the guise of CHRISTIAN ENTERTAINMENT, I’m not about to give them slack for the really off-putting moments that they decided were worth keeping in this film.  Casting is pretty suspect with the main characters being overwhelmingly white, and yet many of the Philistine extras (the more or less BAD GUYS in the movie who start AT LEAST one lynch mob) are where the movie not so subtly throws in a lot of people of color.  Not a great look for a movie in 2018, but about what you’d expect from an outfit like Pure Flix who must think that subtlety is a form of lying and therefore a one way ticket to hell.  I also find it rather uncomfortable that a CHRISTIAN film studio has the nerve make a movie about a JEWISH religious figure (who by the way isn’t even played by a Jewish person), which only further shows how tone oblivious this studio is.  If this movie had been done by any other studio, it’d still be bad and still be somewhat problematic, but putting this under the Pure Flix banner, the company that made both of the God’s Not Dead movies and are about to release a third one, only magnifies the issue and makes it that much harder to overlook it.  As far as the story itself, I GET what it’s going for… but it’s going about it in some rather sketchy ways.  Samson’s biggest problem is his pride which affects his judgement and eventually leads him to ruin.  He squanders his gifts at times in pursuit of mortal pleasures and has to learn over and over again to straighten up and fly right.  Now that’s not a BAD way to go about it and in fact it’s kind of the basis of pretty much every super hero story since then.  With great power comes great responsibility is more or less the coda that Samson’s parents and fellow Israelites try to impart on him!  The problem is WHAT ends up causing him to stray from his path which has some pretty patriarchal overtones.  His one weakness is women who in this story are either intentionally deceptive or weakly complicit in Samson’s misery, and the movie REVEALS in this point of view of them.  His wife Taren is a waifish flowers who can’t help but destroy the man she loves (and is ALSO a Philistine which means he’s marrying outside the religion), and then when Delilah enters the picture its all about how deceptive women are, and… well we know how THAT story ends.  Oh wait!  We DON’T know how that story ends because Delilah’s fate is not revealed in the Bible after she (spoiler alert) betrays Samson by cutting his hair!  You want to bet that Pure Flix is gonna miss such a GOLDEN opportunity to shame a woman even further and make this story THAT much more about HER betrayal rather than Samson’s failings?  I mean, who can blame him!?  We all know what GUYS are like, am I right!?  Dudes can’t control themselves in front of pretty ladies, so it’s up to THEM to coddle their feelings; otherwise, who KNOWS what will happen?  Probably the MEN will be the one to get hurt though instead of the women.  PRETTY sure that’s the case, AM I RIGHT!?  Ugh… I feel like I need a shower after writing that, but hopefully I got my point across.  Trying to update problematic material requires that you take great care to recognize the problems in the material and try to work through them rather than ignore them or perpetuate them.  Pure Flix is not the kind of studio that tries to be THAT self-reflective or humble though (who do you think they are?  Christian?), and so what we got is a movie that gleefully stomps on the landmines put in front of them; maybe without even realizing it, but I seriously doubt that Pure Flix is THAT ignorant of what it is they’re doing.

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“NOW THAT YOU HAVE BEEN THOROUGHLY CUCKED, I AM THE TRUE ALPHA!!”     “Well that seems a bit harsh.”     “TRIGGERED, MUCH!?”

We all know better than to hope that Pure Flix turns a new leaf and realizes the harm they’re doing with every film they release, and while this is the LEAST HARMFUL of the bunch that I’ve seen, it’s still not even REMOTELY in the ballpark of a good movie.  This isn’t gonna skate by on low expectations and I do not recommend seeing it in a theater no matter how curious you are to see what 300 by way of America’s Worst Film Studio would look like.  Maybe check it out when it gets a home release and the studio has already taken a HUGE hit for this being a total flop (we can only hope), but even then it’s not THAT absurd or wacky enough to merit a hate watch; especially when you probably still need to catch up on the giant duds from LAST year.  Have you seen The Snowman?  Yeah, THAT film is an unmitigated disaster that topped my Worst of the Year list, but you’d STILL get more enjoyment out of THAT than watching this tepid Sunday School production.  Hell, if you want a GENUINELY interesting religious piece of media, go play El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, the one thing I kept coming back to as this film’s EXACT OPPOSITE considering how much genuine beauty, spirituality, and gravitas it has without being overly straightforward or the least bit preachy.  This may not be the WORST thing we’ll get this year which is a badge of honor this film can proudly wear if it must, but I’ll be forgetting about this sooner rather than later; especially with that OTHER Pure Flix movie coming down the pipeline.

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