A month or so ago, I came across a trailer for David & Goliath, a new Christian-made film being released in April. The film caught my eye because it was a Christian-made film being touted as having an unheard of $50 million budget, and the filmmakers seemed intent on comparing themselves to Darren Aronofky’s Noah, and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, making the heady claim that unlike those atheist-helmed endeavors, their film would be “biblically correct in every way.”
Setting aside the “biblically correct” statement for a moment, a few things came to mind as I watched this trailer. First, why do filmmakers continue to give the people of ancient times British accents? Second, why do filmmakers persist in hiring caucasian actors to play Middle Easterners? Third, why – in the age of CGI wonders – would you make a 50 million dollar feature film about David and Goliath, and then proceed to make Goliath seem so… unimpressive?
But I was curious, because it seemed like the filmmakers were being very persistent and quite verbose in talking up their film. So, I went searching for more and in the process discovered writer, director, and producer Tim Chey.
Timothy A. Chey is a filmmaker who has been making faith-based films for the past several years. Some films he has either written or directed (or both) include Freedom (with Cuba Gooding, Jr), The Genius Club (with Steven Baldwin), Final: The Rapture (with several actors I didn’t recognize), and the subject of today’s review, Suing the Devil (with Malcolm McDowell).
Curious, I scoured the internet for anything I could find out about Mr. Chey. I discovered several print interviews with a variety of Christian websites, and a handful of televised interviews where Mr. Chey appeared on Carman’s talk show (the well-known Christian singer who was quite popular in the 80’s), Christ in Prophecy, and other similar broadcasts. After reading and watching everything I could find, I was left with a split opinion of Mr. Chey, or at least the Mr. Chey we can see online.
On the one hand, in his video interviews Mr. Chey came across as a good natured and passionate Christian, a man who understands that Christians should embrace cinema, and he seemed like the kind of person I would enjoy sitting around with, talking movies. I also can appreciate that his movies have reportedly had positive spiritual impact, encouraging believers, and even being a tool that God has used to draw people into faith in Him.
On the other hand, in his print interviews, and sometimes on video, Mr. Chey often played the role of the persecuted Christian filmmaker. Did he truly experience the sorts of persecution to which he eluded? Or was this a strategy on his part, to stir up some controversy and make his films more interesting to the evangelical audience?
I really don’t know, but I wanted to address two things that he talked about in multiple interviews, that seem to be a recurring theme in the narrative he paints of David and Goliath in particular, and his career in general: Hollywood’s response to David and Goliath, and Christian criticism of his films.
In an interview on Godvine, Mr. Chey wrote about the resistance he faced finding distribution in Hollywood for his film, saying “The Hollywood studios have rejected ‘David and Goliath’ for being too Bible-based and religious. One studio executive said, “You mention God in almost every scene.”
The reason why the studios decided they would not distribute David and Goliath was that it was too Bible-based? It talked about God too much? It was too biblically correct?
Here’s where I have a problem with this suggestion: 2014, Hollywood’s “Year of the Bible”, was the year that the Hollywood movers and shakers watched several Christian-made projects do quite well, including a little evangelical indie Christian film called God’s Not Dead, which made over $80 million in box office and DVD sales. Hollywood continued to reel from Mel Gibson’s enormous success with The Passion of the Christ a few years earlier, with most of the studios rushing to create “faith-and-family” divisions in an attempt to exploit evangelical Christian desire for entertainment.
After all, Hollywood is a city built on profit, not ideology. And considering that neither Noah nor Exodus: Gods and Kings were the box office blockbusters that the studios had hoped they would be, and this was largely because the films didn’t please the evangelical Christian audience, one would think that the studios would greet a well-made “biblically correct” film with open arms.
One would think they would smell the box office cash from miles away.
But according to Mr. Chey, his film was too Bible-based, too religious, talked about God too much, was too biblically correct to qualify for anything from the Hollywood studios but rejection.
Does that strike anyone else as… odd?
Secondly, in one interview, Mr. Chey complained that his films were being mocked by “fellow jealous Christians… saying the acting was bad, script was horrible.” In another interview he said that one of his personal weaknesses was “not loving those carnal Christian movie critics who continually stab Christian filmmakers in the back.”
“Jealous Christians”? “Carnal Christian movie critics”? Ouch.
“The mistake Christian filmmakers make repeatedly,” Mr. Chey continued, “is they give into their fears of being maligned by the carnal, world-loving Christian who drools over Hollywood product…”
“Drooling over Hollywood product”? Is that just a snarky way of saying Christians who appreciate well-made movies?
Finally, Mr. Chey dropped the bomb.
“One person wrote me and said 7 people went forward to receive Christ after showing ‘Gone‘. I can just imagine these carnal Christians rolling their eyes at the horror of that. But the true horror will be on Judgment Day when Christ says to them, ‘Depart from me for I never knew you.'”
I actually had to read this quote several times to make certain that I understood the ramifications of Mr. Chey’s comments. If I understood him correctly, Mr. Chey was saying that he had experienced negative criticism from Christians, and that these film critics – because they had been critical of his films rather than just encouraging – were actually “carnal Christians” who would be damned on judgment day.
Because they didn’t like his films?
Having never actually seen any of Mr. Chey’s films, I was now truly interested. Although as a person who is purposefully critical of Christian-made films, I was concerned that this might lump me into the category of being either a “jealous” or “carnal” Christian.
I ran over to his IMDB page and began looking into his films, especially for the ones available for viewing online (one of the downfalls of living in China). I passed immediately on his two end-times movies (the most overdone of Christian-made genres), and while his John Newton film looked interesting, I couldn’t find a way to watch it online.
Then this film poster caught my eye.
Suing Satan? Malcolm McDowell? A very eye-catching poster? I was intrigued by the whole idea. And since Amazon offered streaming rentals of the film, I proceeded to watch.
For part 2, the actual review of Suing the Devil, click here.
This post is a part of my 40 Days (and Nights) of Christian Media Challenge, where I’m doing my best to consume nothing but Christian media. This has led me to make some good Christian media discoveries, as well as some real clunkers.
Day 16 down.