Director – Kevin Sorbo, Screenplay – Paul Lalonde, Jessica Parker & John Patus, Based on the Novels Written by Jerry B. Jenkins & Tim LaHaye, Producers – Ed Clydesdale, John Duffy, Paul Lalonde, Jason Wan Lim, James Quattrochi, Kevin Sorbo & Michael Walker, Photography – David Kaulbach, Music – Tyler Bragg, Visual Effects – MODEfx (Supervisor – J.D. McKee), Polyscope Productions Ltd. & Tribal Imaging, Special Effects Supervisor – Wade Maurer, Production Design – Bobby Vanoven. Production Company – Stonagal Pictures/Polyscope Productions.
Kevin Sorbo (Rayford Steele), Greg Perrow (Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams), Sarah Fisher (Chloe Steele), Neal McDonough (Jonathan Stonagal), Corbin Bernsen (Steve Plank), Charles Andrew Paine (Pastor Bruce Barnes), Bailey Chase (Nicolae Carpathia), Sam Sorbo (Amanda White), Stafford Perry (Dr Dirk Burton), David Lereaney (Rabbi Chaim Rosenzweig), Celestial (Fern), Braeden Sorbo (Connor), Valarie Planch (Dr Ruby Kinkaid), Kathryn Kohut (Hattie Dunham), Stuart Bentley (Reverend Pinkus)
It is some time after The Vanishings where people all around the world have inexplicably disappeared. Society is falling into chaos as a result. On the GWN news network, Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams begins to ask questions about The Vanishings, dissatisfied with the official answers. He suspects that a reported second wave of Vanishings is being faked and seeks evidence of this, despite being ordered not to pursue it. At the same time, pilot Rayford Steele begins to seek answers about what happened in The Bible. He is led to a pastor who tells him about The Rapture, the time when all true Christian believers are taken up to Heaven, and The Tribulation, where those remaining see the world around them becoming hostile. As Nicolae Carpathia is appointed the new Secretary General of the UN, Buck is led to seek out faith as an answer and sees clues that lead to the rise of the Antichrist.
The Left Behind series of books by former sports writer Jerry Jenkins and the now late Christian minister Tim LaHaye enjoyed reasonable success and were purportedly best-sellers.. The series began with Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (1995) and continued for sixteen books up until 2007, as well as several spinoff books. The series focuses on Biblical End Times Prophecies – the so-called Biblical end of the world prophesied in The Book of Revelations where we get The Rapture, the coming of the Anti-Christ, the establishment of the One World Government, the rise of the Antichrist, The Number of the Beast etc.
The films rights to the books were obtained by Canadian brothers Peter and Paul Lalonde, who operated the now defunct Cloud Ten Pictures where they had made a string of Christian Cinema works, including their own original series of End Times films. Cloud Ten produced three films adapted from the Left Behind books, which consist of Left Behind (2000), Left Behind II: Tribulation Force (2002) and Left Behind: World at War (2005), all starring high-profile Christian convert Kirk Cameron.
However, LaHaye and Jenkins ended up embroiled in legal infighting the Lalondes before the first film even opened with they unhappy about the Lalondes’ failure to produce the film as a big-budget epic. Following the legal settlement in 2010, the Lalondes regained the right to all the books. From there, Paul Lalonde without his brother went on to produce a reboot of the series with the better-budgeted Left Behind (2014) starring Nicolas Cage, although that failed to enjoy any box-office success. Around the same time, there was a further film Left Behind – Vanished: Next Generation (2016) produced by LaHaye’s grandson independent of the Lalondes, which reworked the basics for a Young Adult audience.
Following the attempt to pitch the series for mainstream audiences with the 2014 film, Paul Lalonde makes a third effort to launch the series with Rise of the Antichrist, which appears intended as a sequel to the 2014 film even if all the characters from that film have been recast. The Left Behind films seems to fly in the face the ugly truth that, while the books may have been best-sellers, film audiences are just not interested in Left Behind as an IP. None of the other films have been successes, either at the box-office or critically. The only receptive audiences seem to have been Christian believers. It may say something that when it comes to Rise of the Antichrist that Paul Lalonde had to raise funding via Indiegogo and that the entire film was made on a budget that was equal to Nicolas Cage’s salary for the 2014 film.
The new film has been placed in the directorial hands of Kevin Sorbo. Sorbo was a former commercials actor/model who gained international fame as a result of being cast in the title role in the tv series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1995-9). He made the odd work banked on that success with Kull the Conqueror (1997) and the tv series Andromeda (2000-5) before his star started to wane. Sorbo has a career arc that has been sad to watch – from being an international sex symbol around the time of Hercules (I knew women that used to watch the show just for him) to being dumped by his agent according to Sorbo’s claim for having conservative beliefs to subsequently making a straggling career as a star of Christian films like God’s Not Dead (2014), Spirit of the Game (2016), Joseph & Mary (2016) and The Girl Who Believes in Miracles (2021). Sorbo had also directed a couple of these Christian films with Let There Be Light (2017) and Miracle in East Texas (2019). By the 2020s, Sorbo had become a right wing Twitter troll, espousing views that showed him as a Trump apologist, an anti-vaxxer, anti-feminist and conspiracy theorist, which has made him a general internet joke.
I am not of the brigade that is militantly up in arms in saying that a person must be banished from the public sphere just because they promote views that don’t agree with everyone else. The entire point of free speech is that it entails the freedom of people you disagree with to say whatever they want. As far as I am concerned, Kevin Sorbo has the right to voice whatever opinions he likes in whatever manner he chooses. That doesn’t mean I am not going to exercise my own freedom of speech and ridicule Sorbo (and the film) for holding what I consider absurd views.
There have been some huge social changes since the 2014 Left Behind film came out. There was the presidency of Donald Trump, which had the support of most of Christianity, and there has been the Covid pandemic where many, such as Sorbo, regarded vaccination as a great liberal conspiracy, as well as sweeping changes in terms of social movements like Black Lives Matter and others calling for racial and gender equality, These are issues on which Sorbo has been vocal, both for and against, and which expectedly bleed into the film.
The early sections contain a good deal of talk about the Trump era buzzword of Fake News, a term that meant different things to both sides of the political fence. The film makes all manner of anti-vaxxer digs: “I wouldn’t be too quick to sign up for a vanishings vaccine either,” Greg Perrow snidely tosses off during one of his broadcasts, while the script has coined the awkward phrase ‘a pandemic of vanishings.’ Indeed, the first few minutes of the film features the irritatingly smug Greg Perrow interviewing a scientist and pouring ridicule on her simply for being ‘an expert.’ This is a film making a play for the Alex Jones Conspiracy Theory crowd, even wheeling out conspiracy theory buzzwords like The Great Reset (an international economic recovery program post-Covid that has been leapt upon by all manner of conspiracy theorists). Bizarrely enough, the film’s posters (which you can see above), makes the claim the film is ‘Based on a True Story’ – when we are talking about a scenario that claims masses of people worldwide have been snatched up to Heaven, it leaves you wondering what planet Sorbo, Lalonde and co are on.
None of these Left Behind films are very good, but I prefer the first couple of Kirk Cameron versions more so than Sorbo’s film. They follow the books with a reasonable dramatic structure. This follows the books somewhat but frequently rambles off on its own preoccupations. The Cameron films are dramatically succinct – mysterious event, people’s reactions – whereas this goes somewhat deeper into the character arcs that the two mains leads, Rayford and Buck, undergo to find their conversion. Unlike the 2014 film that was making a clear effort to hold back on the religion and pitch the story for the mainstream, this readily wheels out its Bible verses amid much rhapsodising and praising of The Lord’s name yada yada. At which point I think anybody in the secular audience has switched off altogether.