Now the whole earth had one language and the same
words. And as they migrated from the east, they came
upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.
And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make
bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick
for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said,
‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower
with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name f
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil.
Set in Seattle, this story of three teenagers who crawl down a mysterious hole and find themselves receiv ing unusual powers through contact with a mysterious glowing object is one of the best cautionary parables that I have seen in a long time. And the teens are entirely believable, at first using their new telekinetic powers for typical teenage pranks—blowing up the skirt of a cheerleader, lifting their Pringles from the can directly into their mouths, playing a prank on a woman shopper by transporting her car to a different parking space, and helping the least popular of the trio gain popularity at through a “magic act” at the school talent show.
Andrew (Dane De Haan) is the shy member of the group, often the brunt of taunts and bullying. It could be as a defensive measure that he starts taking a video camera everywhere, thus creating the bulk of the videos that make up this “found footage” film, as in The Blair Witch Project.Other footage comes from a camera that a girl uses, plus images from surveillance cameras and such (a clever way of including Andrew in the shots is when he uses his power to make the camcorder hover in the air a few feet from the three films while recording). Andrew’s mother is bedridden, and his father is an abusive alcoholic, often hitting his son out of anger and frustration.
The other members of the trio are Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and Steve (Michael B. Jordan), an African American extremely popular with their classmates. When Andrew becomes enraged by a tailgater blaring his horn because they are not driving fast, he uses his telekinetic powers to push the offending car off the road and into the river. The boys rescue the injured man from drowning, and afterwards Matt declares to them that there must be rules governing their use of their new-found powers. Never use them against a living being, and never use them in anger. Steve readily agrees, but Andrew does so reluctantly, forewarning the viewer of the darkness soon to follow.
The boys discover that the more they practice their power, the stronger it becomes—much like exercising that increases their muscle power and control. Then comes the day when they learn they can fly. This proves difficult at first for a couple of them, but soon they all are cavorting among the clouds. This sequence is especially effective at showing their teenage playful exuberance. If only it could last. But Andrew finds it increasingly difficult to contain his anger, especially at home where his mother is dying and his father is taking out his own anger on his son. The last portion of the film matches that of another film about a teenager using her powers to strike back at her oppressors, Carrie. Like all good cautionary films, there are unintended consequences that prove disastrous.
Director Joshus Trank and screenplay writer Max Landis’s film is an excellent one for a group of youth to watch and discuss. (However, it is rated PG-13, so parents should be forewarned before taking a youth group to see this!) The teens in the film are portrayed so realistically, exhibiting both the energy and excitement of teens discovering unexpected powers while reacting at times with a mixture of maturity and irresponsibility, the latter indicated by not thinking of the consequences of their acts. The plot will remind sci-fi and comic book fans will of films of the past few years dealing with the origins of super heroes, only this film is more realistic in that the three teenagers are more interested in playing pranks than in donning a mask and costume to pursue a noble cause on behalf of justice. The cautionary lesson taught in the dark last chapter of the story grows out of an understanding that not everyone who receives a great gift will exercise great responsibility.
Note: Discussion questions are available with this review for those subscribing to the Visual Parables journal. The journal also includes many extras–book reviews, the use of films for church seasons, a lectionary related column, and more. Hundreds of old reviews are also available in the subscribers; section. Check out the sample issue.