Film Review: The Revival

Preacher struggles with his sexuality—have we seen it before? Yes. Does this make you want to see it again? Not really.
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The call of God is a particularly complex one for Eli (David Rysdahl), who has just returned to his small Southern hometown to take over the ministry of his late father’s church. He has acquired a wife, June (Lucy Faust), who’s about to have their firstborn, as well as a Harvard education, which informs his mission to progressively reform old-school church practices in the community.

Eli’s desire to liberalize his Southern Baptist parish comes up against some strong opposition, especially from church board member Trevor (Raymond McAnally). A gun-toting redneck, Trevor would have Eli preach more about hellfire and damnation in order to compete with flashier, more popular churches in the vicinity. Things look unpromising indeed. But Eli soon meets Daniel (Zachary Booth), a grungy drifter, whom he lets stay in a cabin in the woods he owns. Eli then falls for Daniel; their relationship, fraught with all kinds of fear and bound to end badly, forms the fulcrum of the film.

Jennifer Gerber adapted The Revival from a 2010 play by Samuel Brett Williams. The film is her directorial debut and, frankly, it shows. Despite the compelling nature of her story (albeit one told several times before), the project feels underdeveloped and its execution at times shaky. Perhaps in a striving for a certain “reality,” she has kept things so low-key that the import of scenes often gets muffled. Despite a rather tortuously heated first kiss, you never get a real feeling of the spontaneous combustion and intense passion between Eli and Daniel, which would have inspirited the very drab proceedings. They seem to bond mostly over Daniel’s mispronunciation of Marcel Proust’s surname, in his early effort to impress Eli that he’s not just some dumb, comely homeless guy. June is no more than one of a thousand sad, rejected wife parts—those women who seem to have nothing to do but suffer over their men—and Faust does a pale Michelle Williams impersonation.

Rhysdahl and Booth both work hard, but neither can overcome the fact that neither of their characters is particularly interesting in any way, even if Daniel knows how to cook crystal meth. (“Don’t cook meth here,” Eli keeps repeating to him, a line that becomes inadvertently funny.) McAnally bellows and blusters a lot, but somehow only comes across as even gayer, in his pushy big-bear-daddy way, than Rhysdahl or Booth.

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