In Arkansas a married Southern Baptist preacher, Eli (David Rysdahl), is frustrated that he’s having difficulty getting people into the pews, as they want something fancier and simpler than his more nuanced take on God. It doesn’t help that the church was started by his father, and he’s constantly being compared to him.
He comes across young, homeless, drifter, Daniel (Zachary Booth), and decides the Christian thing to do is to help him out by finding him a place to. However, that leads to an affair between the two men, which challenges the preacher’s faith and could destroy both his church and his marriage.
In the past few years quite a few gay-themed films have tried to deal with sexuality and religion, and whether there seeming incompatibility can be reconciled. The Revival continues the trend with a film that’s more interested in the individual relationship with God – and how people can use God to justify anything – than it is with the wider arguments surrounding whether true Christians should accept gay people. Eli talks about the arrogance of people assuming they know the mind of God, but finds himself falling prey to the same things.
While he is thrown into emotional turmoil by the affair – both because Daniel is gay and because he’s married – the young drifter knows exactly what he wants. It becomes Daniel’s refusal to leave – which would allow Eli, his wife and the rest of the community to continue hiding from the truth – that becomes the central crux of the movie.
The Revival adds in a couple of interesting side plots, including Eli counselling a young man who’s in love with his cousin and wants religious guidance. It’s an intriguing addition, allowing the film to challenge the audience with a situation that is in some respects similar to gay marriage, but which both religion and the law have taken different stands on. Similarly, it would have been easy for the film to present Daniel as a bit of a Mary Sue, but he’s intriguingly flawed (with a penchant for cooking meth) and stubborn. Unfortunately, neither is really explored as much as they could have been.
Indeed, that’s a criticism of the whole film, in that it’s very good at raising ideas and questions, but not so good at exploring them and their ramifications. By the end it gives in to the melodrama that it’s been threatening to descend into all the way through, and what it seems to think is leaving the audience with plenty to think about comes across as indecision over what it’s actually trying to say and do. In fact, that lack of clarity means you could feasibly interpret the ending as saying that being gay is wrong and violence against gay people is justified – it’s not saying that, but you could certainly argue that on the surface.
Gay movie stalwart Zachary Booth (Keep The Lights On, After Louie) puts in a strong performance as Daniel, while David Carl is suitably conflicted as the preacher trapped between his sexuality and what he believes what God wants – but equally who’s less in control of things that he’s like to think. However, they can’t quite overcome a movie that never really works out how to deal with the complexity it knows exists in the topics it raises. It is a shame as The Revival is aware that there’s far more to the debate about sexuality and religion than most believe, and that it can be particularly complex in regard to the idea of having a personal relationship with God, but it can’t quite contain the big ideas it has about them. It does do a good job of showing that beyond just the big ideas are flawed human being trying to muddle through and figure things out, but with an ending that’s emotionally affecting but a bit of an intellectual cheat, The Revival isn’t all it could have been.
Overall Verdict: A film that features decent performances and plenty of interesting ideas about sexuality and religion, but ends up feeling a little unwieldy and indecisive.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac