Love/Hate: Resident Evil 1.5 (BONUS)

Welcome back to a very special bonus entry in the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original version of Resident Evil 2, dubbed by fans as Resident Evil 1.5. A very rough build of this unfinished game leaked years ago and a group of dedicated fans have stitched it together into a mostly-playable demo. I thought that it could be fascinating to see how this early prototype plays, considering that much of the work put into it was scrapped and didn’t make its way into the game we ended up getting. How does it hold up and differ compared to the Resident Evil 2 that would ultimately see release? Read on to find out…


  • It Exists – Look, the most remarkable thing about Resident Evil 1.5 is the fact that it exists at all, that we have access to it, and that it’s playable. In the world of video game development and releases, this is a straight-up miracle. We rarely get to see in-development game builds, let alone actually play them for ourselves. This stands doubly-true when a game gets scrapped mid-development, with all the ideas and concepts that had been in production at the time never seeing the light of day. RE1.5 stands as a relic of a game that never was and shows a snapshot of the ideas which eventually evolved into the Resident Evil 2 we know, which is just fascinating to experience first-hand.
  • Elza Walker – Leon is largely the same in RE1.5 as he is in RE2, but what’s really interesting is the character who didn’t make it to the full release: Elza Walker. Considering that she is basically an unrefined version of Claire Redfield with very little writing and no voice acting to flesh her out, it’s kind of remarkable how much Elza Walker stands out as her own distinct character in RE1.5. Her racing outfit is instantly iconic, distinctive, and striking. In addition, her skills as a race car driver give the character an interesting and unique hook compared to this series’ stable of cops and soldiers. I’m endlessly fascinated by the fact that this game allows us to play as this character who never got to see the light of day. Sure, we didn’t get to learn much about her in this scrapped build of the game, but there’s enough character here that Elza could legitimately make her way into a future Resident Evil game and be accepted with enthusiasm (in fact, Capcom are definitely aware of this as well since they gave Claire an Elza Walker costume in REmake 2).
  • Zombie Variety – One of the coolest aspects of RE1.5 compared to RE2 is that you’re not just shooting the exact same zombie type over and over again. There are a lot more different varieties of zombies, including female ones, fat ones, etc. This doesn’t have a massive impact on gameplay or anything, but it does make this feel more like a massive outbreak with casualties all across the populace.


  • Damage Status – RE1.5 has its own unique way to show damage on your character. As your character takes damage, they will begin to have cuts and show tears on their clothing. It’s definitely an improvement on RE1, but it’s also really easy to miss in the heat of combat. RE2‘s ultimate decision to use a limping animation was far better at conveying information and making you want to heal ASAP.


  • Technically Rough – Look, I get it. Resident Evil 1.5 was unfinished and has basically been cobbled together to even get into a playable state. If you play it, you’re accepting that you’re not playing a completed video game, or even one that was meant to be played at all. Even with all that in mind, you can’t help but acknowledge that actually playing RE1.5 ranges from awkward, to rough, to straight-up broken. Characters are not properly integrated with the pre-rendered backgrounds, so they will regularly walk “over” scenery that should be in the foreground, the map is completely broken and useless, none of the type writers or item boxes work, picking up items and reading files can cause the game to crash, animations are incomplete… again, this is to be expected when you’re playing a game like this, but it still makes for a rough experience at best.
  • You Can Kinda See Why It Got Scrapped – While there is clearly more work that needs to be done to make this game functional, you really can start to understand the developers’ concerns that the game just wasn’t coming together. This version of the RPD has no personality compared to the released version – it’s just a big, square, stereotypical police department building with three main floors and then two basement floors. It doesn’t have the sprawling exploration of other Resident Evil games, you just travel between floors, clearing them out one at a time. The majority of the obstacles are either masses of very stupid and easy to dodge zombies, or shutters, which are closed all over the damn station.
  • Combat Feels Bad – I’m not sure why it’s like this in RE1.5, but the shooting feels massively nerfed compared to even the first Resident Evil. Maybe it’s just because Elza is not skilled with guns, but every shot I took was painfully slow and it takes a lot of rounds to actually down a zombie. As a result, you rarely have enough space to just stand your ground and kill a zombie before it reaches you, let alone if you have multiple zombies approaching. Sometimes you don’t even have enough room to back up either, so just running tends to be the best approach.
  • Not Entirely Original Content? – This I am not entirely sure of, but there were a couple things I came across which seem like they have been added by modders, which makes me question what exactly is in RE1.5 which has been added in after the fact. The two big things were that I encountered the Brad Vickers poster from REmake 2, and in the basement there is what appears to be a statue of Pochita from Chainsaw Man (for some reason). I get that this is just some modder putting a piece of themselves into RE1.5, but it undermines this game’s status as a snapshot of a game that never was, because now I just can’t know how much of it is original and what isn’t.
  • There’s Not Much to Do – Again, I get it, the game is not finished… but that also means that playing this game as-is doesn’t give you a whole lot to do. It’s the equivalent of a digital museum: lots of interesting things to see, but not a whole lot to actually do while you’re in it.

Resident Evil 1.5 is a fascinating peek into the processes which bring us the games that we love. While it isn’t particularly compelling as a game in its own right, viewing it that way is kind of missing the point. If you’re a big fan of the early Resident Evil games, I definitely recommend tracking this down so you can get a look into the early development decisions which helped shape the RE2 we know today.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 3 – Nemesis

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original Resident Evil 3: Nemesis! I’ve got quite a history with this game in particular – I can remember seeing Nemesis on the box art for the game and hearing that he would actively stalk you around the game, and I thought that sounded like the coolest shit ever. It was the first Resident Evil title that I can remember being interested in and I would eventually purchase it, RE1 and RE2 for the PS1 Classics store on my good ol’ PSP. However, it’s also the only one of those games that I actually put any time into (again, I really dug the premise, so I really wanted to try it out). I ended up getting about 1/3 of the way in during that attempt, despite not getting on well with the tank controls and general gameplay at the time (that said, I had vivid memories of reaching the train car and a couple of the puzzles and locales, so I know I managed to make it a couple hours in).

Well, in the years since I have played through a lot of Resident Evil games, including this game’s remake and all the other “classic” entries in the franchise, and I’ve been very excited to finally dive back in and complete the game that first piqued my interest in this series in full. Would it manage to live up to the lofty expectations I had placed on it? Read on to find out…


  • Raccoon City – I had already praised Resident Evil 2 for expanding the game’s scope compared to RE1, but RE3 cranks things up to the point of making RE2 look tiny in comparison. Most of this game takes place within the streets of Raccoon City itself as Jill Valentine has to scrounge up the supplies needed to make her escape. For a PS1 game, it is impressive just how sprawling the city is, as you traverse throughout the streets and into various locales (including the RPD itself). The environmental design has also improved once again, really bringing Raccoon City to life, showing the scale of the devastation it has been subjected to, and showing glimpses of the lives that once were lived here.
  • The Outbreak – On a somewhat-related note, RE3 really hammers home the reality of Raccoon City’s zombie apocalypse in a way that RE2 conspicuously ignores (all versions of RE2, for that matter). The game’s opening cinematic really hammers home how brutal and terrifying this situation is for those caught up in it. The streets are absolutely overrun with undead and we find that there really isn’t anywhere left in the city that’s safe for survivors. Moreso than any other Resident Evil game (other than Outbreak, fittingly), RE3 nails the idea of being caught up in a zombie apocalypse and allows you to live out that scenario.
  • The Story – RE3‘s story is, by and large, the same as REmake 3‘s (which I have praised as probably the strongest story in the franchise). While it is less flashy and refined, it is still solid and enjoyable. Like its remake, RE3‘s story largely stands out in the ways that it differs from your typical Resident Evil game. The overall plot is incredibly simple: escape the city. However, there is a strong focus on character, particularly in the development of Jill and Carlos. Jill does not trust Carlos due to his affiliation with Umbrella, and Carlos believes that Umbrella has the city’s best interests in mind when he’s deployed to try to rescue civilians. However, over the course of the game, Jill learns that there are well-meaning people working within Umbrella, and finds herself coming to trust Carlos. Carlos, on the other hand, gains a deep appreciation for Jill’s strength, comes to realize his complicity in Umbrella’s crimes, and questions his loyalty to the company’s orders. Furthermore, the game greatly benefits from its nigh-unkillable and persistent antagonist, who keeps the pressure on throughout the entire game in a way that no other Resident Evil antagonist can really compare. Furthermore, the game also keeps its focus on the bigger picture – the fate of Raccoon City as a whole is kept in focus as we see the city destroyed at the end. It would have been easy for the game to end like RE2, content that our heroes have escaped, but they made sure to show the ultimate devastation wrought by Umbrella.
  • Nemesis – The titular big-bad is, without a doubt, the most intimidating and imposing enemy in the franchise. The story sets him up this way, and the gameplay does not disappoint. He’s incredibly difficult to fight, running at you in a terrifying sprint, firing a rocket launcher, or making you shit your pants when you try to run to another area and then he follows you and donkey punches you in the back of the head. He can put you into a real panic, but he rarely outstays his welcome, and there are only three mandatory confrontations in the whole game, so if you need to run you have the freedom to do so. However, if you want to stand and fight, that’s also an option, and the game will reward you for it with some fantastic weapons and items.
    • For my part, I elected to stand and fight in most cases, including the incredibly difficult first and second fights where you simply do not have the weapons and ammo required to make this fight short. I died to Nemesis more in these two fights than I did in my entire playthroughs of RE1, 2, and Code: Veronica. I had to put on my Dark Souls pants and git gud, which helped make the rest of my encounters a little bit more manageable. Simply put, try to get him close, then run past his right arm so he’ll be baited for a grab. Then get a few meters away from him and unload a shotgun blast or two pistol shots. Rinse and repeat a dozen times and he’ll go down. Sounds simple enough, but he will sometimes charge at you and leave you with little time to react/dodge. Still, using a couple heals is preferable to dying over and over again.
  • Live Selection – RE3 improves on RE2‘s zapping system with (in my opinion) its far more impactful “live selection” mechanic. At certain points in the game, you’ll be given the option to take one of two different courses of action. While these choices won’t drastically alter the story or let you explore entirely new areas (often you’ll just start in one of two rooms, which you will be able to find pretty quickly), the choices they often the player can often be pretty huge. There are several Nemesis encounters that you can avoid entirely, or cheese to get free item drops from using this system. In addition, I found that the game really encourages taking the “bold” course of action, so it’s nice that it’s not punishing you with a cheap death because you didn’t know enough to make the “right” choice. Ultimately, I love how this lets the player tailor the experience to their wants and needs in any given situation, and it encourages replays to see how much you can affect the game.
  • Improved Map – Once again, the map in RE3 has been improved substantially from its predecessor. In addition to all the previous improvements, viewing the map now has its own dedicated button (L2), you can zoom in and out, all save rooms are marked on the map, and areas of interest are highlighted in blue. It’s not quite at the level of REmake 2‘s user-friendly map, but considering that this is only three years after RE1‘s bare-bones effort, this is a quantum-leap forward.
  • Gun Powders – RE3 introduces the concept of gun powders that you can use and mix in order to make ammunition for your various weapons. Like the live selection mechanic, I love how this allows player choice and expression to take center stage. If you want, you can produce ammo for your mainstay handgun and shotgun, eventually learning how to make stronger ammo if you keep doing so. However, you can also choose to mix ammo types together to produce various types of grenade launcher shells or even magnum rounds in order to fight Nemesis more efficiently. It all depends on your ammo situation at the time and your preferences and priorities, which is fantastic as far as I’m concerned.
  • Graphics – Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering that it was the last PS1 Resident Evil game, but RE3 is easily the best-looking entry on the system. In addition to everything I said about how Raccoon City is brought to life, the character models are all a noticeable step up from the previous games.
  • Stairs! – This is a pretty small change in the grand scheme of things, but OH MY GOD, you can just walk up and down stairs now without having to press a button first! Not only does this make for much smoother gameplay, but it also means that you can stop and turn around if you wish (say, if you’re heading down some stairs and then see that Nemesis is waiting for you at the bottom).


  • Dodge – RE3‘s dodge is somewhat notorious for how unreliable it is. In my experience, it’s not that it is bad or unresponsive (unlike, say, Resident Evil: Revelations). When I wanted to dodge, I found the timing was pretty reasonable and, against certain enemies, I was dodging like a champ. However, the main issue is that the dodge is mapped to R1 (aka, the aim button), or if you’re already aiming, then it’s R1+X (aka, the button you’d press to shoot). The biggest issue this creates is that, unless you’re actively, intentionally practicing your dodges, most of the dodges you are going to do are going to be completely by accident. Furthermore, you have no invincibility during a dodge. As a result, you can successfully pull one off, and then still get caught in a grab attack, or attacked by a different enemy altogether. It’s kind of bullshit, but luckily the game doesn’t require you to be able to dodge in order to be successful (looking at you again, Revelations…). As a result, it feels more like a bonus when it happens that can get you out of trouble on occasion, or a high-skill mechanic to master, but it would have been really nice if the game let you map dodge to its own dedicated button.
    • This is where I should note that there are apparently custom patches for this game where you can map dodge to the R2 button. I didn’t find out about this until I was just about the finish the game, but if I had known sooner, I probably would have given it a try.
  • Randomized Puzzles – I think that RE3 was the one classic Resident Evil game where I didn’t need to look up the solutions to any of its puzzles. They tend to be pretty intuitive, or straight-up tell you what you need to do, or can be brute-forced without too much trouble… which is good, because you can’t really look up the answers the way you could in the other games, because the puzzles and their solutions have been randomized. I get that this is done to make subsequent playthroughs feel more “fresh” and for the puzzles to not feel like a boring obstacle when you have already completed them once, but if you were to get stuck on one, it could be a uniquely frustrating experience in RE3.


  • The Controls – While I don’t really like tank controls, I’ve gotten used to them over the course of the last few games because they were necessary to make the games function within their technical limitations, and the games were designed with them in mind. However, RE3 reaches a tipping point where its controls are actively starting to feel inadequate for the situations the game is putting you in. First of all, a lot of the difficulty with Nemesis comes down to his incredible speed, coupled with your inability to maneuver with any speed in response. If you had more “modern” and “free” movement controls, Nemesis would be significantly easier to deal with as you could bait his grabs more consistently, and you could actually respond to his charges. It’s not just Nemesis either, as even the basic zombies are now significantly faster and will close the distance with you in a fraction of the time required of other Resident Evil games. It feels like these changes were made because of the addition of the dodge and quick turn. However, the dodge is unreliable as we have said, and the quick turn is still too slow to actually be useful when fighting Nemesis, so the game just ends up feeling like it has gotten faster than your movement can really keep up with. Oh, also, when Nemesis throws you to the ground and you have to button mash like mad to stand up? Fuck that shit, it sucks.
  • Reload Tool – As much as I love the gun powder system in this game, it all revolves around the reload tool, which some genius at Capcom decided should take up an inventory slot instead of being Jill’s default item… y’know, the sort of thing every other character in a Resident Evil game had had up until this point. Hell, Jill never even has a default item in this game, so would it have killed them to give her this? As a result, I’m putting my reload tool in the box most of the time, because most of the gun powder you find will be near a save room anyway.
  • Difficulty Modes – RE3 has two difficulty modes: easy and hard. No “normal” mode…? The differences between these modes is pretty substantial too. Easy is laughably easy, playing more like an action movie power fantasy, as Jill starts with a veritable arsenal of overpowered guns that she can use to just blast her way through the entire game. Meanwhile, hard mode is straight-up the hardest Resident Evil survival horror experience I’ve ever had. I breezed through the first two games, Code: Veronica, REmake, even 0… this was significantly harder than all of those games*. To be entirely fair, this is at least partially on me for deciding to try to fight Nemesis when I was not well-equipped to do so. It’s not just Nemesis though, the streets are absolutely swarming with zombies, you will barely have enough ammo to deal with them, and if you do shoot everything you see then you will be hard-up when Nemesis shows up. Around the mid-point when you get more ammunition and can actually deal with Nemesis in a (somewhat) fair fight, the game becomes easier, but it would have been nice if there was a bit more granularity between “ridiculously easy” and “tough as nails”.
  • The Mine Thrower – Man, fuck this gun. It fires mine projectiles, which stick to surfaces and enemies and then detonate after a couple seconds (or, if you miss, when an enemy is in proximity). However, there are so many drawbacks to using it. First of all, if you’re in close proximity to the mine when it detonates, you’ll get hit. Guess which blazing-fast enemy you’re going to be using this against the most, who will close the distance to you after being stuck twice, therefore damaging you twice with your own weapon? Oh, and lest you think you can manually reload the mine thrower to avoid getting caught with no shots in the barrel, for some god-forsaken reason you straight-up cannot manually reload it until its empty. That’s not even the end of it though – if you’ve emptied the gun and try to manually reload it before all the shots have detonated, it will cause all unexploded mines to fizzle. What. The. Fuck. Seriously, this gun fucking sucks, just stick with the grenade launcher.
  • The Discourse – This isn’t something I hold against RE3 itself, but I do feel like it needs to be said. As a self-processed lover of REmake 3, I’m absolutely sick of the discourse surrounding RE3 vs REmake 3 within the Resident Evil fandom. If you went into REmake 3 expecting a faithful remake of the original, then I can understand your disappointment. However, then saying that REmake 3 sucks and is one of the worst Resident Evil games of all-time is absolutely insane to me. REmake 3 is a great game and has different strengths compared to the original – the story and characters are better, the controls make the challenge a lot fairer, the presentation is much slicker and modern, the hospital section is a big improvement on the original, and it’s more of an action-spectacle thrill-ride. Meanwhile, the original has that PS1 charm, classic gameplay style, it’s got a lot more exploration, more freedom in its gameplay and story, and has areas which don’t make it into the remake. Both games can stand out in their own ways. Honestly, as we’ve seen with RE1 vs REmake, that’s probably a better fate for a game than getting completely upstaged. Also, I’m old enough to remember when RE3 was considered the black sheep of the franchise – a disappointment compared to the blockbuster RE2, lacking the groundbreaking history of RE1, less-exciting than Code: Veronica, and then forgotten after the release of RE4. It wasn’t until years later that people started looking at this game the way I do, and I feel like history has kind of repeated itself with REmake 3. All I can hope is that it someday gets the reappraisal I think it deserves.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis is another true classic in the franchise’s early entries, but what really makes it stand out for me is just how unique it is. No other game in this franchise plays quite the way this one does, with its large-scale scope, full-on apocalypse setting, focus on character development, a persistent and incredibly difficult antagonist, and all the gameplay additions like the dodge, live selection, reload tool, etc. Given that no other game in this franchise has improved or iterated on these concepts, it means that Resident Evil 3: Nemesis still stands out all these years later as an entry worth experiencing.

*Note: Code: Veronica and 0 are notoriously difficult games, but their difficulty is largely down to bullshittery. Code: Veronica will fuck you over if you don’t already know about all its progression-halting roadblocks and respawning enemies who simply waste your resources. 0 is somewhat similar, screwing you over when an out of nowhere boss fight takes away one of your characters, or becoming damn near impossible if you just so happen to not have any flame-based ammunition on you when you come across a leechman. However, the moment-to-moment gameplay of these games is not that bad (although I would say that 0 is easily the second-hardest classic Resident Evil). Contrast this with RE3, whose difficulty comes down to it’s mechanics being more demanding than other Resident Evil games, where even the basic enemies are more dangerous and numerous than in any other classic entry and your movement isn’t really sufficient to keep up with it.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil 2

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the original Resident Evil 2! Often considered the best of the “classic” era of Resident Evil, its popularity has been overshadowed several times over the years – first by Resident Evil 4, then by the cult reappraisal of REmake, then by the remake of Resident Evil 2 released twenty one years later. Given that REmake 2 was the game that started this whole Love/Hate rundown of the Resident Evil series, I’ve been excited to check the original and see how it compares. Does it still hold up or, like its predecessor, is it doomed to be eternally overshadowed by its remake? Read on to find out…


  • Scale and Scope – The original Resident Evil was a rather claustrophobic, isolated, and intimate affair, taking place within a single mansion grounds in the deep woods. Resident Evil 2, on the other hand, takes the James Cameron approach to sequels – bigger and better. This game takes place in a full-on zombie outbreak in a crowded city. It feels far more like a Romero-style zombie apocalypse, complete with an opening escape sequence with more zombies attacking you than there might have been in the entirety of the first game. You also encounter survivors who actually get to do more than just die the moment you meet them, making this feel like a massive event that everyone’s struggling to survive through.
  • Everything is Improved – Rather than making a ton of repetitive bullet points for all this stuff, I really need to emphasize just how much everything has been improved in Resident Evil 2:
    • First of all, the presentation. The environments in this game are SO much more detailed than they were in the original Resident Evil. The Spencer Mansion’s environments were sparse to an extreme, whereas every frame of Resident Evil 2 is packed with details, whether these be for mood-setting, environmental storytelling, or to draw you towards objectives and items.
    • Secondly, the voice acting and writing have improved immensely. While not exactly up to modern standards, it’s passable even now, and a damn sight better than most of its contemporaries.
    • On a related note, this game’s CG cutscenes are solid and far more impactful than the laughable live-action FMVs from the original game.
    • They also didn’t waste much time improving a lot of the annoyances I had with the original Resident Evil. The new in-game map is significantly improved, actually showing you what doors are locked, colour-coding them by the key needed to open them, and allowing you to check maps of areas other than the one you’re currently in. Everything just feels like it’s faster too – stair-traversal, text scrolling, discarding useless key items, etc. I would have expected such improvements to occur over the course of a few games, but Resident Evil 2 has already improved to the point where even it makes the original game feel archaic.
  • Refined Design – I was very annoyed with how unfair the original Resident Evil could feel to a new player, especially in the early game when health and ammo are in short supply, zombies are everywhere, and there isn’t much room to maneuver around them. Resident Evil 2‘s environments have been designed in such a way where dodging zombies and Lickers is far more consistently doable, making it a far more reliable strategy to fall back on. Tying into this, this game also gives you way more HP than the original did – at one point, I took three zombie bites (which would have killed me in the original Resident Evil) without dropping out of green health. In addition, button mashing to escape a zombie grab actually works in this game and there’s actual animation and visual feedback to show that it’s working. Similarly, the game also has visual indicators to show how low your health is, so no more just dying out of nowhere – if you’re in danger, you are going to know it and try to heal ASAP.
  • RPD – Okay, I said that the Spencer Mansion was arguably the best environment in the Resident Evil franchise, but that was kind of a mistruth… because I would be the one to argue that RPD is straight-up better. It’s smaller, and we don’t spend quite as much time here, but it has a similar design where two floors are split up on each side of a central hub area. However, the biggest leg-up that RPD has is that several shortcuts are opened up as you explore the area, cutting down considerably on the amount of backtracking required to reach any given area.
  • The Story – You should know by now that I’m always ragging on how disappointing Resident Evil stories are, and I knocked REmake 2 for this very thing… but, man, I was surprised by how much more effective the story of this game is told in the original Resident Evil 2. In REmake 2, the game’s actual plot is “escape the city”, with Leon and Claire just happening to bump up against a more interesting story that’s going on every once in a while that they have no real reason to be involved in. However, everything makes a lot more sense in Resident Evil 2. First of all, it takes actual effort to tie this game’s story into the events of the first Resident Evil. Additionally, the game slowly draws Leon and Claire into the G-virus research and Umbrella politicking going on, and the way it played out made more sense to me for these characters to be getting involved in the unfolding mess. Furthermore, the A and B scenarios are integrated into the story far more organically and make way more sense as overlapping events compared to REmake 2.
  • Lickers – Lickers are easily the coolest non-boss B.O.W.s in all of Resident Evil, so I have to give major props to Resident Evil 2 for introducing them. They’re not even all that difficult to deal with here (either by avoiding them, or by blasting them with a single acid grenade round or 2-3 shotgun shells), but they are such iconic, disgusting monsters and can potentially be such a big threat that you can’t help but be intimidated any time you encounter them.
  • Impressive Gore – The original Resident Evil had some pretty gnarly PS1 gore (even if the best stuff was censored in nearly every release of the game), but Resident Evil 2 kicks it up a notch. In addition to everything that was in the previous game, you can kick downed zombies’ heads off, explosive grenades blow individual limbs off of zombies, Chief Irons gets nearly torn in half from the inside out by a G parasite, and the bowgun violently impales zombies with multiple arrows (which puts the piddly arrows from Code: Veronica to shame). Probably most impressive though is the shotgun: not only can it explode heads (like in the original), but if you blast a zombie with it, it can blow off entire chunks of their body, or blow them in half, causing the lower half to dawdle about for a moment, while the top half falls to the floor and then starts crawling after you. My jaw was on the floor when this happened to me the first time, it’s seriously impressive and unexpected in a game this old.


  • Hidden Items – This game’s more detailed environments are definitely a huge step up from the original Resident Evil, but the one big issue I have with them is that they make it a lot harder to determine where items are. The original game’s items were all pretty obvious – they were on the one table/desk/shelf in the room, or the one object in the room that was a 3D model, and were usually modelled in the game. In this game though, many of the non-key items are not physically present in the game, so you’re expected to just inspect everything to you come across to make sure you’re not missing any items. This does seem to be at least partially intentional in order to get you to investigate your surroundings, but it can also be finicky about your inputs and exact placement. I also nearly missed the grenade launcher in Claire’s playthrough, which would have made completing the game orders of magnitude more difficult.
  • Zapping System & Alternate Scenarios – I’ll fully admit, me putting this in “mixed” largely comes down to how hyped this system was for me before playing it. All through the reviews of REmake 2, old-school fans would complain that they nerfed the A and B scenario differences, that it was so much better in the original in comparison, so I was expecting some pretty big changes and for the overlapping stories to make more sense… and then my game starts and I immediately am rupturing the same water tower that Claire did to put out a fire that Claire put out, opening the same safe and locked doors, opening up the same shortcuts, etc. Maybe it’s a bit unrealistic of me to expect this to have been changed more, but it was somewhat disappointing and the unmatched hype left me deflated. That said, I will admit that the A and B scenarios are more fleshed out in the original than the remake in a couple ways:
    • First of all, in REmake 2, an A and B scenario will establish where and how the characters start at RPD, but each character’s plot will play out the same otherwise. In this game, each characters’ A and B scenarios can have some pretty big effects on how the story plays out, which bosses you fight, and what areas you end up visiting.
    • While there is a lot of gameplay overlap in the A and B scenarios in this game, it will heavily remix the order in which events play out in each area (eg, in Claire A you start out exploring the first floor wings of the RPD, whereas in Leon B you’re running around all over the second floor and east wing for the first stretch of the game).
    • In addition, this game has it’s aforementioned “zapping” system, where actions you take in the A scenario will have an effect on how the B scenario plays out. These decisions, admittedly, will barely affect how your B scenario actually plays out, but they’re a cool idea.
    • What this all comes out to is that this game incentivizes at least four playthroughs to see everything its main story has to offer, and makes each of those playthroughs feel fresher in the way it has done this. REmake 2, by contrast, crams most of the content from these four playthroughs into two playthroughs, although the second playthrough is a lot less “unique”. Your mileage will vary on which approach is better and, honestly, I don’t really know myself which option I prefer. I like to move on to new games after beating one, so I’m not going to experience a Leon A/Claire B run anytime soon. I guess it can be said that, when I do get to it someday, that experience will be more interesting, but there’s also something to be said about just getting the experience I wanted the first time around instead of having to do it all over again two more times just because.


  • No Auto Lock-On (By Default) – I was not too happy when I started Resident Evil 2, saw how many more zombies there were coming at you from all directions this time, and then realized that the game was forcing me to slowly, manually point my character at any zombie I wanted to shoot instead of automatically snapping to them like in every other Resident Evil game I’ve played to this point. However, I did soon discover that there is auto lock-on available, but that it’s found in the controls menu and has to be toggled to. This is baffling to me, why would this not be the default option? You know that there are probably a large portion of this game’s audience who didn’t discover this and ended up playing through the whole thing without it.
  • Sherry Babysitting – While playing as Claire, Sherry will follow you around during a few sections of the game. She’s helpless, so the game will make her stay at a little bit of a distance to avoid getting damaged… buuuut, she will also stop moving if you get too far away from her. What this means is that, on multiple occasions, you’re going to reach an exit, only for the game to say “I can’t leave without Sherry!” because she decided to crouch down an hide somewhere back along the route you took. It’s a minor inconvenience at the end of the day, but it is annoying regardless… and, honestly, nitpicking is about the worst that I can say, that tells you all you need to know about how good this game is.

Resident Evil 2 is fantastic. It’s a massive improvement on its predecessor and it’s easy to see why it was considered the gold-standard of the franchise for so long. It’s basically flawless for its time and I daresay that I enjoy it a bit more than its remake (although REmake 2 is certainly better in its own ways, but I’d have to give the original the slight edge overall). I wasn’t really expecting that going into this game, but it made for a pleasant surprise!

Love/Hate: Resident Evil

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! Now that we’ve been through all the main entries in the franchise, it’s only appropriate to go back to the beginning with the original PS1 trilogy. Naturally, that means we’re going to start with the original Resident Evil! How does this game hold up 28 years later? Read on to find out…

Note: Since I played REmake was Jill, I decided to play as Chris for this run. I know that this makes the game a fair bit harder, but given that this is essentially a second playthrough for me, I figured I was up for the challenge. This may or may not colour some of my opinions on the game, so fair warning.


  • Cheesiness – Early Resident Evil games are known for their bad voice acting and writing, and they don’t get any cheesier than the original game (other than maybe Survivor). The live-action FMVs, the bad localization, and the pathetic voice acting are hilarious and give this game a unique charm that we simply do not get in games anymore. There are just so many unintentionally funny and awkward lines in this game. I already knew about Barry’s heavily-memed lines, but experiencing Chris’s campaign first-hand introduced me to some funny lines I’d never heard before. By far the funniest moment is when Wesker is trying to show off Tyrant, and Chris just laughs at him and calls them both failures. It completely clowns on Wesker as a character, which really undermines what he becomes later in the series (complete with Chris saying that he’s “sleeping with the ultimate failure”), but goddamn is it not funny to see here in the first outing.
    • I’ll also say this – the janky voice acting and writing actually manages to mask some of the more ridiculous aspects of the story compared to REmake. For a particularly egregious example, Enrico’s death is kind of an idiotic plot point. He calls Chris a traitor, points his gun at him, and then someone off-screen shoots him. Instead of, y’know, trying to figure out who shot Enrico or why they might have done this, Chris just goes “huh, I wonder what happened?” in both this game and REmake. That doesn’t make a lot of sense with REmake‘s much flashier and serious presentation, but here it’s just par for the course.
  • Spencer Mansion – I’ve played a lot of Resident Evil games and I can confidently say that the Spencer Mansion is still arguably the best-designed layout in the whole series. Having a central hub area that you figure-eight through throughout most of your journey works fantastically and it’s kind of surprising that no game since has been able to match this kind of design. It also helps that item boxes are never more than a couple hallways away, which really facilitates the kind of survival horror gameplay loop that this game is going for without making it a constant slog.
  • Established the Classic Formula – The quintessential “Resident Evil” formula is here and pretty much all intact, albeit in an unrefined state. That said, it’s kind of amazing how much the core gameplay of “ammo/health scarcity and exploring to find new items to unlock new areas” is still intact nearly thirty years later and as compelling as ever.
  • Some Unexpected QoL – Even here in the first entry, the game will tell you when a key item is no longer useful and allow you to immediately dispose of it. I was shocked by this, I’m used to games of this era being very unrefined and would have completely expected them to expect you to head back to an item box to deposit it. This is especially helpful in a game like this where inventory slots come at a premium and disposing of it automatically might mean that you now have room to pickup whatever new item is in the next room. Also, the Black Tiger boss fight ends with a door covered in spider webs, and the game helpfully provides you with a second combat knife so you know what you’re expected to do and to save you a trip to the item box. Handy!


  • REmake Exists – Without a doubt, the biggest issue the original Resident Evil faces is that you’re going to be constantly aware that a better version of this game exists. REmake is literally just Resident Evil, but with more content, phenomenal presentation, and better execution. Unlike Resident Evil 2 and 3, where their remakes are more reimaginings of the locations and concepts of those games, Resident Evil is left completely overshadowed. There isn’t much reason to go back to this version of the game other than the novelty of it and to laugh at the cheesiness.
  • Low HP – Compared to other Resident Evil games, you have shockingly low health reserves in this original entry. The first time I took a bit from a zombie and then realized I was already in the yellow, I knew something was up – and, remember, I was doing this playthrough as Chris, the character who is supposed to be significantly tankier. Jill has even less health than he does! Legitimately, you can’t take more than three zombie bites without dying in this game, which is kind of insane considering you can take that many hits in other Resident Evil games without even going into the yellow.
    • Just a note: I’ve read that you couldn’t shake off zombies in this particular entry, so you’ll always take full damage from them. However, this appears to be somewhat conflicting – some people say you can, some say that you can’t. I tried button mashing to push them off towards the end of the game when I became aware of this and didn’t notice a difference. I’m willing to own up if I’m wrong about this, but my opinion here was based on my experience in this playthrough.
  • Frustrating Early Game – The first thirty minutes or so of this game are incredibly irritating. Nearly every single door you come across is locked, you only have two viable paths to start exploring, there are zombies all over the place, and you are extremely limited on ammo. As even more of a piss-off, some of the paths you will HAVE to go at the start of the game have several zombies blocking the way, and each zombie takes at least six handgun rounds to kill, even if you’re also using the knife to soften them up. Basically, the start of this game requires either: 1) knowledge from previous playthroughs to know where to go and what you can afford to kill, 2) considerable trial and error, or 3) a walkthrough. This presents a massive hump to get over in order to actually start enjoying the game and I can see a good chunk of players just quitting in frustration right off the bat as a result.
  • Unrefined Design – Being the oldest game in the franchise, you can really feel the lack of refinement and QOL features which would quickly become standardized throughout the franchise. I don’t want to hold that too much against the game, but there are some particularly frustrating examples. Most egregious is the in-game map, which is about as bare-bones as it could possibly get. It shows the mansion layout, tells you what area you’re currently in, and what rooms you’ve visited… and that’s it. You can check other floors and areas, there’s no information about the names of the rooms, save points, item boxes, locked doors, etc. You’d legitimately be better off making your own map on paper while playing, that’s how archaic this game’s map is.
  • Presentation and Game Design – This is one of my harder-to-articulate complaints about this game, but I’ll try to explain it. I think that Resident Evil‘s fixed camera angles and tank controls were sensible and clever design choices given the technical restraints of the time. However, the way that these have been implemented here create more frustration that they needed to.
    • Pathways are often very narrow, making it difficult to dodge zombies without taking a hit or requiring gunning them down to pass safely (again, see my complaints about low HP and the early game lack of ammo for why this is such an issue). To make matters worse, the camera angles are often so zoomed out or angled in such a way that it can be difficult to judge exactly how much space you have to maneuver around a zombie, making you take hits that you could have dodged otherwise.
    • In addition, the graphics and camera angles combine to make it difficult to even see what paths you can take. On more than one occasion, I completely missed paths forward because they just blended into the background. This is especially pronounced in the underground, where the background textures are extra low-resolution and monotonous.
    • This can also make knowing what to interact with the the environment really frustrating. The most prominent example of this is the placement of the eagle and wolf crests on a fountain with four corners. I walked up to the first, most visible corner and nothing happened. Turns out that the game wants you to go to two other corners, whose points aren’t even on-screen when you reach them, and then interact with them know that’s where you’re supposed to put the crests. It is incredibly easy to miss this and I’m sure plenty of people got stuck wandering around trying to figure out where to go next.

All-in-all, the OG Resident Evil is still a pretty fun time, but you can really feel how unrefined and aged it is, even in comparison to its immediate follow-ups. While REmake is the best way to experience this game, there’s still some old-school charm to this original rendition which makes it worth playing through at least once.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Dead Aim

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over the third, and final, Survivor game, Resident Evil: Dead Aim! I’ve been pretty up-front with my thoughts on the first two Survivor games – they’re two of the worst games in this entire franchise little to no redeeming qualities between them. For Dead Aim, Capcom looked to shake up the formula a bit to try to finally make a Survivor game worth playing. Would third time be the charm, or is this yet another failure for this sub-series? Read on to find out…


  • Morpheus – Hands-down, the most interesting and notable aspect of this game is its villain, Morpheus. This might seem kind of surprising at first glance, since Morpheus’s characterization is extremely shallow. The game’s opening blurb pretty much establishes their entire character and motivation: to create a kingdom where beauty has absolute authority. But then the game goes in a completely unexpected direction, as this guy injects themselves with this game’s virus and it causes them to… turn trans!? Like, I’m not even kidding either. Morpheus was introduced to us as a Sephiroth-style pretty-boy, but then they come out as a big booby Tyrant with goddamn biological heels (I’m going to go with “they” here simply because we never get a clear-cut answer about how they identify). It’s completely off the wall, but it’s a choice that makes Morpheus significantly more memorable and interesting than they have any right to be. It’s also kind of wild because of how well it’s handled – no one’s calling them a freak because of the change, they’re treated no differently than any other Resident Evil antagonist would be, and Morpheus seems to be living their best life because of it. I’m not even sure that it was the developers’ intent for this to be as positive a representation as it is, but for a game released in 2003, it’s pretty shocking to see. Hell, the game even seems to lean into it. You can’t tell me that the scene where Morpheus’s transformation is revealed, where this tall, booby trans woman turns Bruce into their bitch as he moans pathetically as he gets dominated isn’t meant to come across as kinda hot… and not even in a trans fetish way, I mean more in a general domination kink sort of way. Like I said, it’s kind of insane how well the trans aspect of the game comes across to me (although, to be fair, I’m not trans, so maybe I’m missing some key context). On top of all this, the section of the game where Morpheus stalks your character is legitimately intense, and they have easily the best boss fight in the entire game. Simply put, Morpheus is one of the most interesting Resident Evil villains, almost entirely due to the bonkers decisions they made with the characters, and then how well they managed to execute these decisions.
  • Bruce – Our hero, Bruce McGivern, is about the most stereotypical 2000s-era male you could imagine. Dude looks like the lead singer from Crossfade, an image which I have not been able to shake the entire time I played this game. Bruce is an American spy who is trying to stop Morpheus from unleashing a bio-terror attack on the world. He’s also a massive, bungling doofus, has an extremely weird vocal performance, is constantly getting clowned on by his rival and love interest, Fongling, and, as I stated previously, Morpheus absolutely turns him into their bitch… and, honestly, all this actually makes him kind of endearing. There’s a real charm and sincerity in seeing this dork stumble through mishap after mishap as he tries to save the day and it’s the kind of thing that you just never see from a Resident Evil hero.
  • The Map – Legitimately, Dead Aim has one of the best maps in the entire series. Every room you come across is labelled, making navigating to specific areas much easier. In addition, every locked door you come across with get marked on the map with a cool little scribble effect, like Bruce is updating it in real-time as you explore. He’ll also mark key doors, and circle areas of interest. It’s also great that the map is mapped to the select button for easy access. All-in-all, it’s just an extremely handy tool to have at your disposal and makes exploration less of a hassle.
  • Ambition – Look, the Resident Evil: Survivor games we’ve looked at so far have all been pretty different. The first game was kind of like a stripped-down Resident Evil game with more of an emphasis on shooting. Meanwhile, the second game was a full-tilt, run-and-gun, arcade light gun game. Dead Aim is more similar to the original Survivor game, but it’s very much its own beast. It adds first- and third-person gameplay elements, a stealth system, and a far more cinematic plot and narrative. I’ve actually heard it described as a prototype for Resident Evil 4… which is kind of insane to say, but also not entirely wrong either…? Even if its ideas aren’t always executed as well as one would hope, I appreciate just how far off the beaten path this game is willing to go; it makes Dead Aim a very unique entry in the sprawling Resident Evil franchise.


  • Stealth – The aforementioned stealth system is pretty handy. Hold down X, L1, or L2, and you will begin sneaking around, making it a lot harder for enemies to hear you and making them less likely to aggro to you. You can get through the game without using it, but it definitely makes the game easier and you will waste significantly less ammo… however, there are a couple drawbacks. First of all, you’re moving a hell of a lot slower, so the game’s pace is also going to be slowed during general traversal. Secondly, sneaking around isn’t really all that fun, especially compared to blasting zombies.


  • The Story – The actual plot of Dead Aim is pretty standard spy thriller stuff: Morpheus is going to launch missiles when they reach their island base, it’s up to Bruce and Fongling to stop them. This is a good setup, but man is the story told poorly and barely develops at all (the only major plot points being: Morpheus infects themselves, the cruise ship crashes into Morpheus’s base and blows up, and the Chinese government make a deal with Morpheus and try to kill Fongling off). It also doesn’t help that the game completely bungles its opening. Instead of giving us any kind of setup to establish characters, the setting, plot threads, etc, instead the game starts in media res with Bruce already on Morpheus’s cruise ship and captured at gunpoint by the villain. Then Fongling immediately rescues him and the game starts, despite us having no fucking clue who any of these people are or what the hell is going on. It feels like we’re missing at least fifteen minutes of setup and doesn’t come across like it was an artistic choice – rather it feels like they were just trying to put in the minimum effort to get this story underway.
  • The Sounds – Dead Aim has some of the worst sounds for a major video game release that I’ve ever heard. First of all, the voice acting – I don’t think the performances here are bad like they are in some other Resident Evil games. However, they are recorded and/or mixed terribly (in the English release, at least). You can barely hear what Bruce or Fongling are saying half the time. On top of that, there are all sorts of bizarre and unpleasant sound choices in this game. Most infuriating, most of the cabins on the cruise ship have this awful high-pitched sound that plays the entire time you’re in the room for some godawful reason. In addition, enemies have an incredibly limited pool of sound effects, so you will hear the same zombie sound over, and over, and over, and over, ad nauseum. I’ve also got to say that Pluto, the morbidly obese zombie, makes the weirdest fucking sounds that I’ve ever heard in a zombie game when he’s chasing after you. It gets incredibly annoying and makes this boss fight even more annoying than it already is.
  • The Length – Once again, we have an insanely short Survivor game, clocking in under two hours total playtime. For me, it took 1 hour and 43 minutes, which is just nuts. Unlike the original Survivor, there aren’t even any branching paths to incentivize replays. Perhaps the craziest part to me is that there doesn’t seem to be much reason for the game to be this short? Like, there are plenty of opportunities to pad out the length if they wanted to and allow us to take more time exploring areas, solving puzzles, fighting enemies… y’know, Resident Evil stuff. Instead, the game has a break-neck pace as it blasts through areas with little pomp or circumstance. Like, at one point, I fought a boss and then like two minutes later I was fighting another, completely separate boss who was only like one locked door away. Does it not make sense to space these kinds of big moments apart more, or is that just me…? All I can think is that Dead Aim was incredibly limited for cash and/or has a concrete release date, so they had to cut a lot of corners and use only what they had for the final product (which would also explain some of the story issues).
  • The Controls – Dead Aim has some really strange controls. I’ll admit that some of this comes down to me not having a Guncon 2 to play the game on, but this isn’t really an excuse. Halo: Combat Evolved had been out for two years when this game came out, so there’s no reason for the game’s controller support to be any worse than that. Anyway, the game uses tank controls like every other Resident Evil game up until that point. In addition, you can hold X or L2 to sneak and strafe, while holding L1 will allow you to sneak… but, for some reason, you’ll only be able to move forward and backwards? Not sure why this is even a thing, but it’s here. In order to go into first person mode to shoot enemies, you need to tap R1, and then use the right stick to move your reticle. Want to leave first person mode? You have to press… down on the D-pad. Oh, but pressing left or right on the D-pad will allow you to move the reticle as well…??? Pressing R1 again will allow you to shoot. You can also hold X to strafe in first person mode, or you can also press X to dodge (although the timing is pretty tough to nail). Look, this control scheme works, but is it good? I would say that it is not, lots of its features feel redundant, contradictory, and/or unintuitive and I don’t know how many times I accidentally wasted bullets forgetting that you had to press a different button to close first person view.
  • The Environments – The cruise ship is kind of an interesting area to explore, but even at that point in the game, you can feel how much of the environments are being recycled over and over. This just gets worse as the game goes on, as you pass through identical areas with even less variation to them.
  • The Subtitles – Look, how fucking bad does your game have to be when I’m out here complaining about the goddamn subtitles?! Dead Aim has that infuriating issue with imported Japanese media where the subtitles do not match up with the dialogue. I’m assuming that this is down to different localization teams who, for some godforsaken reason, decided to translate the Japanese dialogue for the subtitles, and then localized the dialogue separately. It makes the awful sound mixing for the dialogue even worse, since you can’t tell what exactly is being said at all times, but it sure as hell is not lining up with what the subtitles are telling you is being said.
  • The Assault Rifle – I’d like to know who the bastard was who decided that every single round fired from every gun in the game needs to make the screen flash white. The reason for this is because the assault rifle, a rapid-fire weapon that holds 100 rounds of ammunition at a time, turns into a fucking seizure-inducing, eye-ball searing nightmare every time it is fired. Making matters worse, it’s an incredibly powerful gun that you kind of need in order to win some of the tougher boss fights, so you’re pretty much going to have to use it at some point, even if it will leave you a frothing, twitching mess in its wake.
  • The Facial Animations – This might sound like a weird complaint, but Dead Aim might just have the worst facial animation I’ve ever seen in a game. Bruce and Fongling are constantly making the weirdest, most unnatural faces that I’ve ever seen (and, in Fongling’s case, they’d feel borderline offensive if they weren’t clearly just the work of crunch and/or incompetence). The end result is that it becomes even harder to take either of these characters seriously.
  • The Sewers – Resident Evil games are notorious for having bad sewer levels, but this game’s sewer section is easily the worst in the entire series. There are a hell of a lot of reasons for this too:
    • First of all, the game suddenly becomes very stingy with ammo out of nowhere. Ammo was reasonably plentiful on the cruise ship, but here you simply will not find enough ammo to kill most of the creatures you come across, let alone have enough to deal with the level-end boss. To make matters worse, if you waste your high-powered ammo down here then you’re a sucker, because what little ammo you do find is going to be mostly for your handgun. Joy.
    • Secondly, the sewer layout is maze-like, but you’re going to very quickly realize just how linear and repetitive it is. Seriously, there’s only one path forward, and you’re not going to be able to more than a few steps off the path without finding that the way forward is blocked and/or locked behind a grate. As a result, when you enter an area, you can just look at your map and pretty much be able to tell which way you can go without even being able to see which doors and routes are blocked yet.
    • Thirdly, this area is full of Glimmers, one of the absolute worst enemies in the entire franchise. These Hunter variants are a massive pain in the ass – they hide in the dark, so you can barely see them, they take a ton of ammo to put down, and they’re incredibly fast, so you have a literal fraction of a second to react before they sprint across the entire room at you in the blink of an eye and grapple you. The concept of a cautious, stalking enemy is really cool, but fighting Glimmers ends up being complete bullshit here in execution. Even the Resident Evil wiki says to just avoid them, because fighting is a waste of time and ammo.
    • Finally, the whole area is capped off with a boss fight with the aforementioned Pluto, a very fat zombie who hunts you through sound. Again, cool concept, but my God is the execution awful. If he hears you, you will take damage. However, you get a silenced pistol very early in the game, so you can trivialize the entire fight by staying far away, and sniping his head with dozens of pistol shots over, and over, and over again. It makes for a tedious joke of a boss fight, to the point where I had killed him and didn’t even realize it until the cutscene started playing about ten seconds later.
  • The Game Incentivizes You to Not Play It – When I first got to play as Fongling, I had been given an assault rifle and a ton of zombies. “Cool,” I thought, “the game’s letting me have a power fantasy where I get to let rip with this gun against a horde of enemies”. Only, no, it turns out that I’m actually an idiot. Later, when I play as Fongling again, she was still out of ammo and was stuck with just her pistol. She never gets more ammo for the assault rifle and never gets any other gun for the rest of the game, making some of the sections where you play as her harder if you wasted her ammo earlier in the game, like a fucking idiot. What did you think I was playing, a light gun shooter!? That’s when it dawned on me: if you’re even bothering to fight enemies in this game, you’re a sucker. Even basic zombies take a stupid amount of ammo to down, you only get to carry six boxes of ammo of any type at a time, non-handgun ammo is exceedingly rare, and if you run out of bullets, there’s no melee option, meaning you are just plain fucked. Literally, the best course of action in this game is to shoot only enemies that cannot be avoided without taking damage. In all other cases, running or sneaking past them is always the best course of action. Again, this is supposed to be a light gun game. For all its faults, at least the original Survivor nailed the idea that you were supposed to want to kill the zombies. This also, obviously, just makes a content-bereft game even shorter and hollow, which is about the last thing it needed.

I appreciate just how bizarre and unique Dead Aim is within the Resident Evil franchise. However, it really fails to elevate the Survivor sub-series out of the depths of the garbage bin it had been residing in. I do think it’s probably the best of these three games, but it’s still easily one of the worst games in the franchise all things considered. Still, there’s not other game quite like it, so it’s certainly worth experiencing, if only to see all the bonkers decisions put into it.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! In this entry we’ll be going over one of the most obscure titles in this franchise, Resident Evil Survivor 2 – Code: Veronica! The original Survivor is, by far, one of the worst games in this entire franchise. However, this was largely down to the execution being really poor, so the prospect of seeing the concept of “first person shooter Resident Evil game” get another try was an intriguing one at least. Could Survivor 2 do what its predecessor could not? Read on to find out…

Note: I did not play this game with a light gun. This may colour my opinions on this game somewhat, but I honestly doubt it. This is not a game where precision matters (even moreso than the original Survivor), and I just can’t see how a light gun would make an appreciable difference compared to a controller as a result. All opinions here are made under the assumption that I’m experiencing this game using a controller.


Umm… this is a first for the Love/Hate series. Nothing. There’s nothing I love about this game. In every other piece of media I’ve covered, no matter how much I hated that media, there was always something nice I could say about it. This is the first time where I sit down, try to think of anything nice I could say, and cannot. Any positive thing I can think of is then immediately spoiled as I remember some major caveat that pushes it into “mixed”.

So, yeah, buckle in…


  • The Controls – Survivor 2 came out right before Halo: Combat Evolved released and nailed down how to design a shooter for console. Unfortunately, that means that Survivor 2 has a really weird control scheme by modern standards. Left analog stick moves your character, right analog stick… does nothing. No, you need to use L1 and R1 to turn your character, and then square to shoot. I kinda see what they were going for, and in a vacuum it’s a reasonably ergonomic layout, but it feels so foreign to a modern gamer’s mindset. In fact, I had to go into my emulation settings and change all my button inputs to make it more natural to me. Even then, I managed to break the R2 button on my RP4+ playing this game from the constant gunfire spam. All the more reason for me to hate it I guess.
  • AI Partner – Survivor 2 lets you have an AI-controlled partner with you at all times, which is helpful for providing some extra fire or drawing enemy aggro. I legitimately like having them there, but their AI is also dumber than a sack of bricks. In particular, if you end up against any kind of strong enemy (particularly against end-of-level bosses or Nemesis), they’ll run right into them and die very quickly because they don’t know enough to run.


  • Pathetic Playtime – Look, I’m not someone who rags on about gameplay length. I tend to prefer a short game so I can move on to something else. However, even I have my limits: Survivor 2‘s campaign lasts approximately 40 minutes. I’VE LASTED LONGER THAN 40 MINUTES! Like, I’ve legitimately lost more time in Fallout 3 forgetting to save and then dying than I would get from the playtime of this game. The reason it’s so short? There are only five levels and they all last mere minutes.* I had to think about how much I’d hold this against the game – it was, after all, designed as an arcade cabinet game first and foremost. There’s a different sort of design philosophy there and a shorter runtime would be expected. However, even with that in mind, I can’t give Survivor 2 a pass. First of all, it was released as a full boxed game in Japan and Europe, so it should be treated like any other full release title. Even taking into account its arcade game status, it’s not even good when compared to other arcade games. Furthermore, it’s not like they adapted the entirety of Code: Veronica in those five levels and that’s the length the game had to be as a result. No, they only adapt the first half of the game! We never even go to Antarctica! Did they develop this game in six months…? All I can say is “What the fuck?” over and over again.
  • Mindless Gameplay – Survivor 2 is about as mindless as a game can get. At least the original Survivor was trying to stick to the classic Resident Evil gameplay formula, but Survivor 2 is straight-up as mindless a shooter as you can get. Gameplay consists of going from point A, to point B, to point C, all while shooting every single thing in sight and trying not to get hit back. Levels are very short. There are no puzzles. There is no real reason to explore, other than finding gem collectables. The game doesn’t even want you to explore, as it has painted the floors with arrows pointing to your objective. It’s just a mindless gauntlet that becomes more frustrating as it goes.
  • Enemies Are Wasted – Perhaps the weirdest thing about Survivor 2‘s length is how much the game actively avoids stretching it out. For what it’s worth, Survivor 2 has a fantastic roster of enemy types which could easily support a much longer game’s runtime. However, most games will slowly introduce you to new enemy types so you can learn to get good against them. Survivor 2 is playing like a meth addict, throwing new enemy types at you every 30 seconds, only for them to die in mere seconds and then never be seen again. It’s baffling, I don’t know what else to say about it.
  • Feels Recycled – This is a weird thing to say about a game, but trust me, if you played Survivor 2, you would feel it. As far as I can tell, 99% of this game’s assets are taken directly from Code: Veronica and the Dreamcast ports of Resident Evil 2 and 3, with the menu UI and the map system being the only parts that I can see which are wholly original to this game. On the one hand, this is kind of a cool way for Resident Evil fans to see Code: Veronica up close in a way that was impossible before. However, this also means that every stage in this game is literally played on Code: Veronica’s existing maps. THEY’VE FRANKENSTEINED A SHOOTER OUT OF A GAME WORLD DESIGNED FOR SURVIVAL HORROR. This means loading screens every five seconds as you go through a door. This means constantly seeing in-game models which were never designed to be seen this close. This means finding yourself asking why the hell Lickers and Nemesis appear in this game. All I can think is that they just used what they had and didn’t do a single thing more than they had to to ship a minimum viable product.
  • No Voice Acting – It’s really awkward when you start playing this game and see Claire and Steve meet up and their lips are moving… but nothing’s happening. On the plus side, this does mean we’re spared Steve’s voice acting again, but it’s very jarring not being able to hear them speak after I just got done playing Code: Veronica proper.
  • No Stage Select – Much like the original Survivor, if you die in Survivor 2 and run out of lives, it’s game over, back to start. Even though you’re likely to only lose about 15 minutes of progress, that’s still 15 minutes of bullshit to get back where I was. You either get gud, or stop playing. Well, I’ll be honest here, I got through four levels and then died. I was done, I don’t even feel the need to see this final level. The whole thing’s the bloody same shit over and over, there’s no reason for me to believe it will change at all.

Despite all my rage, I honestly don’t think that Resident Evil Survivor 2 is the worst Resident Evil game. Umbrella Corps is still the reigning champion, due to how much more baffling it is that it was bad, and also because the state of its online mode even shortly after launch hampered it significantly. That said, when, in comparison, I find myself suddenly saying nice things about the original Survivor, you know you fucked up badly.

*Your mom lasted mere minutes.

Love/Hate: Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X

Welcome back to the Resident Evil love/hate series! It has been quite a while since the last entry, but I’m finally ready and able to continue the series with Resident Evil – Code: Veronica X! This is another one of those Resident Evil games that I owned and tried to play through several times (my most recent abandoned attempt being back at the start of 2023), but never made it more than an hour in. However, much like REmake, those failed attempts all made this final attempt go much more smoothly – I knew more-or-less what I needed to do at the start of the game, which allowed me to get over the early game hump of not wasting ammo and health. Practice from previous attempts also meant that I didn’t struggle with the tank controls either and acclimated to them very quickly. Having played through the whole thing now, how does Code: Veronica X hold up? Read on to find out…


  • Classic Gameplay – Code: Veronica is the oldest mainline Resident Evil game with no remake, which means that it also has the most “classic” gameplay formula for anyone wanting to play through the story of the series’ main entries. This also means that it’s the only mainline entry where tank controls are mandatory. While this will definitely be a hang-up for some, I had fun acclimating to them and, after a couple short attempts, they finally “clicked” and I had basically no issue with them through the entire experience. It makes me excited to go into the PS1 Resident Evil games and Outbreak now that I’ve got this down pat. Code: Veronica is definitely less polished and refined than REmake, but the classic Resident Evil formula is still executed well and is really fun.
  • Wesker – Albert Wesker was a decent villain in the first Resident Evil game, but he got clowned on by his own monster. The Wesker we know today though? He came into his own in Code: Veronica. This is the first time he really became King Shit as he laughs maniacally and monologues while beating the tar out of Claire and Chris Redfield. He gets some classic lines and cool new powers that helped establish him as the franchise’s greatest villain.
  • Claire – I really like Claire’s character design here, it’s probably my favourite look for her in the whole series. You can really see how her experiences in Raccoon City have jaded her and turned her into a full-on action heroine badass, best exemplified by the Matrix-inspired opening cinematic.
  • The Story – I almost always rag on the stories in Resident Evil games, even in the franchise’s best-regarded games. They just tend to be poorly told, disjointed nonsense when you apply any thought to them, or they have an interesting story happening in the background which the main story barely bumps up against. However, Code: Veronica seems to have struck a good balance between a story that’s relatively simple and straight-forward (escape the prison/Antarctic base), while also weaving the series’ larger lore into the main plot in a way that makes it all more interesting. Towards the end, Code: Veronica turns into a full-on succession war between the Ashfords and Albert Wesker to see who will control the BOW market in the wake of the Raccoon City incident, and seeing that play out in front of us instead of through optional files is pretty exciting to see play out. On top of that, there are a few good, unexpected twists that keep things interesting and a fairly coherent narrative throughout. All-in-all, it makes for a story that is easily one of the most interesting and memorable in the whole franchise.
  • Nosferatu – If we’re being honest, this boss fight is kind of bullshit. The boss has a poison spray attack that is nigh-on unavoidable and very long-ranged attacks that mean you can barely even see the boss before he can damage you, and he can instant-kill you if you’re too close to the edge of the platform. However, I don’t mind too much in the end because Nosferatu has an awesome, exceptionally creepy creature design – easily one of the coolest monsters in the whole franchise. On top of that, the fight has fantastic atmosphere, taking place in a blizzard as you try to find Nosferatu in first-person view and shoot him in his weak point. Even though I kept dying cheaply to this guy, I couldn’t help but have a good time each time I replayed the fight.
  • Checkpoints – Code: Veronica has added a checkpoint system which makes dying against bosses less of a pain in the ass. Instead of being kicked back to the last save room (however long ago that was), most bosses will have a checkpoint sometime before the boss that you can start at, making these showdowns less frustrating. The game also doesn’t kick you back to the main menu every time you die, which makes dying slightly less rage-inducing.


  • Graphics – On the one hand, Code: Veronica is a pretty big step up from the PS1 trilogy in terms of its graphical fidelity. Technology had also increased enough where backgrounds were no longer pre-rendered and were now being done in real-time, which means that the camera can also freely move at times and there’s no more “loading stutter” whenever the camera angle shifts. However, this is a bit of a mixed bag for me in the end. For one thing, being a Dreamcast and early PS2 game, Code: Veronica is, graphically, in the transition period between what PS1 games were doing and what PS2 games would end up looking like. As a result, it looks kind of pathetic in comparison to REmake and 0, which came out only 2 years later (or 1 year if you played Code: Veronica on PS2). That’s not really the game’s fault, but what is the game’s fault is that the ability to move the camera isn’t really explored at all. Fixed camera angles were a necessity of PS1 technical limitations and pre-rendered backgrounds, but if you have this world entirely rendered in real-time, there isn’t really much of a reason for this game to continue sticking it fixed camera angles. The camera just kind of works within the general framework of fixed angles, moving on occasion, but then switching angles as needed because that’s the expectation for the series. This makes all the occasions where you get damaged by an enemy your character could see, but you can’t because it’s off-screen, all the more egregious than they were in previous Resident Evil games.
  • Alfred Ashford – Our initial antagonist in the game, Alfred Ashford, is a foppish, annoying, effeminate, borderline-offensive cartoon villain… but I can’t really bring myself to hate him like I do the Leech Controller in Resident Evil 0. I think it’s because it was entirely intentional for him to be eccentric and pathetic, so he ends up being almost endearing as a result. Definitely one of the worst Resident Evil villains, but he’s at a level of derpiness that I could see me really leaning into the character someday.


  • Steve – Sigh. As soon as I heard this guy’s vocal performance, I knew I was in for a rough ride. Steve sounds like an early 2000s Final Fantasy/shonen anime hero, complete with squeaky, nasally voice, melodramatics, and his obsession with dual-wielding guns at all times. Unfortunately, it’s not just his vocal performance that does him in. The writers clearly want you to like Steve, giving him a very tragic backstory, moments of over-the-top badassery, and forcing a romance between him and Claire. Uuuuunfortunately, this all fails miserably because you can’t take his vocal performance seriously and the writing of the character just doesn’t work. Like, that “romance” between him and Claire? The “build-up” for this romance is him trying to kiss Claire when she’s sleeping, then telling her he loves her when he’s dying. It just doesn’t work and there is little indication that Claire looks at him with anything more than pity. All that said though, Steve makes for a goldmine of memes. Going into a PTSD meltdown because he has to shoot his zombie dad? Hilarious. Being told that “Steve is suffering” as we try to free him from a room full of poison gas? I’m literally on the floor laughing. Steve gets distracted staring at Claire’s ass, causing their getaway vehicle to crash, releasing a cloud of poison gas that Claire gets stuck dealing with? Comedy gold.
  • You Kind of Need a Walkthrough – Code: Veronica is one of those games where you can find yourself screwed over through no fault of your own because of a sudden difficulty spike or completely unpredictable change in the way that the game works, and you just are expected to deal with it. If you’ve already played through the game, this isn’t a big deal, but if you go in completely blind, you might find yourself having to replay massive chunks of the game, if not restarting entirely.
    • The first big instance of this is the Tyrant fight on the plane. It’s a sudden and massive difficulty spike that is beyond anything else you faced in the game to this point (and, arguably, at any other point). This sonofabitch can stun-lock you to get off two colossal hits in succession. Given that it only takes three or four hits from it to die, this is incredibly frustrating. Your goal in this fight is to launch it out of the plane by activating a catapult system to throw a crate into it. Each time this is activated, you need to wait about thirty seconds for it to recharge before you can launch it again, during which time you need to avoid getting hit and launch as much damage as you can at the Tyrant to wear it down enough for the next crate to take it out. This can take anywhere from two to five launches to pull off, and if you used all your grenade launcher or explosive arrow ammo earlier, then sucks to be you. This difficulty spike can straight-up soft-lock you if you didn’t conserve your ammo and healing well enough up to this point.
    • About halfway through the game, you switch from playing as Claire to Chris. Chris has access to Claire’s item box, but I sure hope you weren’t holding onto your best weapons and all your healing items when you were playing as Claire (which is quite likely, because you switch right after the Nosferatu boss fight). Chris can get by without Claire’s best weapons, but it definitely makes playing as him harder than it needs to be, purely because you had no way of knowing that this switch-up was happening.
    • Likewise, later in the game you switch back to Claire, briefly. Once again, you don’t have access to any weapons or items Chris had and, when you switch back to Chris, any items you take with you will be gone for good. This sequence also has a nasty action sequence against mutant-Steve where you die in only two hits, and you’re going to be hit at least two or three times (if not more). Again, I sure hope that you have enough healing items, or you are literally screwed here.
    • On the smaller end of things, there’s a metal detector early in the game where you have to stash all metal objects on you before you can enter. Not only can you easily forget any important items you left here, but there’s a fire extinguisher you’re likely going to put here after using it, which you actually need to bring with you to Antarctica as Chris in order to get the strongest gun in the game and make the final boss fights significantly easier. This one’s kind of easy to miss, but it’s also kind of bullshit that they’d hinge the best endgame weapon on whether you remembered to grab a seemingly-useless key item hours earlier and put it in your item box until it became useful again. The ID Card sure as hell didn’t do anything after its one short usage (in fact, I accidentally mixed it up with the Security Card, so it actually was a pain in my ass that I still had it at the end of the game)…
  • Bandersnatches – These ugly bastards are a pain in the ass. On the one hand, I appreciate that they don’t do much damage to you, but they will constantly attack you from long range, will stagger you with each hit, and are almost-always doing so from off-screen. They’re just a massive pain to deal with every time you see one and are often not worth the ammo and health you’d need to waste to actually kill them.
  • Unmemorable Locales – Compared to the Spencer Mansion and RPD, the locales in Code: Veronica are not particularly memorable. A prison and an Antarctic base should be really cool areas for a Resident Evil game, but the way they have been designed here doesn’t really do the premise justice. I think the main issue is that the Spencer Mansion and RPD have a main, central hub area that all paths branch outward from and then loop back to. In contrast, Rockfort Prison, the Palace, and the Military Training Facility are three separate compounds which you cycle between (and which take about a minute of travel time each time you go to change areas). On top of this, when you play as Chris, a lot of your routes you memorized suddenly change and get blocked off, making it really hard to remember where exactly you need to go to get to a particular destination.
  • Chris – This one is a bit unfortunate. On the one hand, I think that Code: Veronica might be Chris at his most likeable. He’s straight-up the all-American action hero that he should be, actually getting to interact with Claire also makes him the world’s best big brother, and he also gets a personal antagonist in Wesker. Unfortunately, the mid-point twist where you start playing as him and then realize that they’ve transported you back to the prison right after we’d gotten all excited about escaping was not a great decision. It ends up dragging the prison section out for another hour and a half and feels completely superfluous, like they were stalling for time and reusing as many assets as they could. It also rubs me the wrong way that, as soon as Chris shows up, Claire is completely upstaged for the rest of the game. She basically gets turned into a damsel in distress from that point forward and lets Chris do all the work. I remember when Kaya Scodelario said that Claire doesn’t get to do much after Resident Evil 2 and wanted to change that if they made more sequels to Welcome to Raccoon City, to which Resident Evil nerds went “umm, have you not heard of Code: Veronica and Revelations 2?!” To which I can now confidently say: Claire gets shafted halfway through this game and is easily the most superfluous character in Revelations 2. Kaya’s right, and if we do get more movies with her as Claire, I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing some changes made.

I’ll be honest, I went into Code: Veronica not expecting to like it too much. It’s one of those games that has been hyped up for me for years by certain people, but I’d also heard other people who said really mixed things about it. As a result, I went in with a more critical bias against it. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really did dig it. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best in the whole franchise by any means, but it is a really fun, solid entry that is well worth playing through when you’re ready to dive into the “classic” Resident Evil entries.

Retrospective: Left Behind – Rise of the Antichrist (2023)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! We have finally reached the most recent entry in the franchise, Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist. After the critical and financial failure of the Left Behind reboot and the embarrassing, putrid mess that was Vanished, surely Left Behind couldn’t get any worse, right? Well… Kevin Sorbo’s here and he’s gonna do his damnest to make sure this Retrospective ends with a long, wet fart sound. Will I be able to keep my sanity if I watch one more Left Behind movie? Read on to find out…

Side-note: I would find it funny if some evangelical boomer tried to watch this movie and accidentally exposed themselves to Lars von Trier’s Antichrist instead. If anyone has any stories about this happening, please share in the comments.

Once again we have another “trendy for its release date, but extremely-overdone” kind of poster. Not awful, but extremely boring. (Although, that said, what the fuck is wrong with Chloe’s hair/head…?)


Despite the financial failure of the Left Behind reboot, Cloud Ten were undaunted in wanting to move forward with a sequel. However, due to not making back their money on that movie when it was in theaters, they had to resort to an Indiegogo campaign to try to raise funds. The goal for this campaign was set at $500,000, but they only ended up raising $80,699… however, because this campaign was set with a flexible funding goal, they ended up keeping all the money anyway! Backers were then left with a very, very long wait for any news on the movie. After nearly three years of nothing, they surely must have felt that they had gotten swindled.

However, the silence would eventually be broken in 2017 when Paul Lalonde announced that he had officially acquired the rights to adapt all the Left Behind books – as mentioned previously, until now they had only had the rights to the first two books. This would now mean that they could adapt the entire series going forward, and planned to do so over the course of at least five more movies. During this time, a script for a sequel to Left Behind had been written, once again by Paul Lalonde and John Patus (although this time they would also share writing credits with newcomer Jessica Parker). Kevin Sorbo was approached for a role in the movie at this time. Given this information, it seems likely that, even at this time, Nicolas Cage was out of the movie. Either Cloud Ten had not secured his commitment to potential sequels, or they could no longer afford him (reportedly, his salary for Left Behind was $3.5 million, which would end up being the entire budget for this second film). According to Kevin Sorbo, due to the close proximity of Left Behind and God’s Not Dead, Cloud Ten became inundated with questions about why Nic Cage was cast a Rayford Steele rather than Kevin Sorbo, which may have also contributed to the attempt to recast. Whatever the case may be, Sorbo actually passed on the sequel initially, leaving the film without a lead.

Despite having a script ready to go in 2017, Rise of the Antichrist wouldn’t actually enter production for several more years. I wasn’t able to find confirmation about why exactly it took so long to actually enter the pipeline (I searched through years of Facebook updates from the official page and the sort of shit they were posting there not only didn’t clarify things, it actively made my brain want to melt out of my ears), but if I have to speculate, I would imagine that they had difficulty finding funding. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise for Cloud Ten, because 2020 brought with it the COVID-19 pandemic and a massive wave of conservatives rallying against public safety measures. In the midst of this environment, Paul Lalonde and John Patus updated their script to better reflect “current events” and, as the film finally went into full production, Kevin Sorbo accepted roles as the star and director of Rise of the Antichrist.

If you are unfamiliar with him, Sorbo is definitely worth exploring a bit to understand what sort of energy he was bringing to Left Behind. The man was in a career resurgence (of sorts) off the back of God’s Not Dead, which had type-cast him as the “recognizable has-been who will star in any Capital-C Christian movie” guy. He would soon appear regularly in these sorts of films, including Joseph & Mary, Let There Be Light, and The Girl Who Believes in Miracles. Sorbo would claim that Hollywood “blacklisted” him for being a Christian, but it seems like he was getting steady work, just no “massive” roles. That said, we’d be remiss to not mention the real reason he wasn’t getting big roles starting in the early 2010s, and that is because he is a massive, outspoken, conservative dickhead. Like, don’t take that wrong – I don’t mean that people hated him because he was conservative, but more the way which social conservative beliefs made him into an insufferable prick and social media troll (with such highlights as saying that The Passion of the Christ wasn’t anti-Semitic, because the Jews did kill Jesus, or calling black people “animals” during the Ferguson riots).

Sorbo’s entry into the Christian media landscape marked a change in how these movies tend to be made. As I mentioned in my reviews of the God’s Not Dead movies, God is almost entirely absent in these movies – their actual focus is clearly on conservative politics and culture war bullshit. They aren’t trying to change minds, they’re made to rile up a conservative audience and disparage their ideological enemies. That’s why I expressed surprise in my reviews of Left Behind and Vanished that these two movies weren’t leaning into these contemporary trends, but instead were focused on a more traditional Christian movie approach of trying to actually appeal to non-Christian audiences. Sorbo’s post-God’s Not Dead films tend to be moreso conservative than they are Christian, so his involvement in this film definitely painted the picture that this new Left Behind might hew more in that direction for the first time in the franchise’s history.

Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson and Nicky Whelen were originally contracted to reprise their roles as Buck, Chloe, and Hattie, respectively, but given how much time had passed since the last film, they were unable to fit the film into their schedules. As a result, Rise of the Antichrist had to be fully-recast (like some other crowd-funded sequels I can think of). Sorbo aside, the new cast included Greg Parrow (of… nothing fame) as Buck Williams, Sarah Fisher (of Degrassi: The Next Generation fame) as Chloe Steele, Sam Sorbo (Kevin’s wife) as Amanda White, Charles Andrew Payne (also not particularly famous despite being in lots of small roles over the years) as Bruce Barnes, Corbin Bernsen (known for lots of things, among them the Major League movies) as Steve Plank, and Bailey Chase (who has an extensive history of pretty prominent TV credits) as Nicolae Carpathia. The other big name in the cast was Neal McDonough. It’s worth noting that, by this time, Neal McDonough has kind of earned a reputation for being the best, lowest-rent villain actor available, after turns in garbage such as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. I definitely thought that he was going to be cast as Nicolae Carpathia, which would have legitimately been pretty spot-on casting, but instead they cast him as… Jonathan Stonagal!? This is baffling enough, but it makes me realize that they absolutely missed an opportunity by casting Nicolas Cage as Rayford Steele – can you imagine if they had cast him as Nicolae Carpathia instead!? That sort of move could single-handedly buoy any Left Behind movie to greatness if they had the balls to do it.

Filming would get underway in Calgary in late 2021 and wrap up after 19 days of shooting. Kevin Sorbo and Paul Lalonde would go on press tours to promote the film, which only furthered my concerns about a potential new direction for Left Behind. Sorbo and Lalonde both said in interviews that they truly believed that the Rapture is imminent (funny side-note: in the aforementioned Facebook page posts, Lalonde would get very angry at people who suggested that the Rapture might occur after the Tribulation; for the record, this is the same sort of nerd energy you’d get watching someone getting frothing mad about a fanfic shipping two characters they don’t like). Lalonde would confirm that the 2014 Left Behind reboot was top-down intended to preach to a broad audience, whereas this film was intended to “wake up” Christians about the state of the world. He also added that “I think it may be our last real opportunity to ride a wave before [end times prophecy] all comes to pass”. On a completely unrelated note, those people who were saying the same thing in the midst of truly apocalyptic events like World War II, World War I, and the Black Death must have been a bunch of self-centered losers, eh?

Anyway… Rise of the Antichrist would release in theaters January 26, 2023 and grossed at least $3.6 million. It was successful enough that Kevin Sorbo has confirmed that a sequel has been greenlit and that he will be returning to direct it. He had claimed that it was going to start filming by the end of 2023, but I have seen no updates since then, so we’ll see when, and if, that happens…

Plot Synopsis

Rise of the Antichrist picks up six months after Left Behind. Buck is skeptical about the “official” stats about the vanishings and causes a stir at GWN when he grills a UN representative who suggests that a second wave of vanishings is imminent. When this predicted event does occur, Buck becomes suspicious that this latest event is being faked in order to keep people scared and compliant, since no one seems to actually know anyone who has disappeared this time. Despite threats from his boss, Steve Plank, Buck begins looking into this theory with his hacker friend, Dirk Burton.

Meanwhile, the Steele household is still reeling from the events of the vanishings. Chloe is traumatized about her mother and brother’s disappearance, is lacking direction, and is unconvinced that the Rapture was the cause of the disappearances. Rayford, on the other hand, is seeking answers, which brings him to the vandalized remnants of New Hope Village Church, where he finds Bruce Barnes. Rayford’s earnest searching is enough to pull Bruce out of his depression and they endeavour to begin preaching the word to the lost.

Jonathan Stonagal announces that the world financial system is on the brink of collapse in the face of the most recent wave of vanishings, and moves to complete the consolidation of all currencies into a single, unified currency through his social media platform, Eden. In response to this, an anonymous contact provides Dirk Burton with access to Eden’s servers, where he discovers that Stonagal is going to use Eden to enforce unprecedented control over all people and all nations. He informs Buck about this and the pair begin preparing to gather more evidence to expose the truth. Steve gets wind of this and fires Buck on the spot. However, Buck still has some access to the building and tries to make one last broadcast with Dirk, but before he can, Dirk is killed in a car bombing. Buck manages to escape and then sneaks into Dirk’s apartment to steal his laptop, and the evidence on it, before the assassins can discover its location.

While this has been happening, Rayford and Bruce manage to convince Chloe that the Rapture is the cause of the vanishings. She tries to share this with Buck and warn him about prophecies associated with the Antichrist, but Buck is dismissive. He needs to get the evidence to Nicolae Carpathia, the UN Secretary General, to help him Stonagal before it’s too late. When he gets there, he hears about plans which line up with the prophecies Chloe had just been telling him and realizes that she was right. He converts right before the UN delegates meet with Nicolae, Stonagal, and Todd-Cothran. Nicolae shoots Stonagal and Todd-Cothran to usurp their power and then mind-controls everyone (except for Buck) into believing that the pair were killed by assassins instead. However, Buck leaves the room and immediately hacks into GWN’s broadcast to declare that Nicolae is a liar and that Jesus is Lord. He is pursued by the assassins, but manages to escape on a private plane with Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce, and they fly over the city to drop leaflets about the Rapture.


I really hoped that I’d get to use the Kevin Sorbo “DIS-AP-POINTED!” meme in this review… but, honestly, I can’t really justify it being used organically. I watched a Kevin Sorbo Left Behind movie, and I got a Kevin Sorbo Left Behind movie. Don’t take that as me going into this biased and looking for reasons to hate it. I had heard that this movie actually wasn’t bad, so I was legitimately going into this with an open mind to see if that was true. Plus, I had just watched Vanished, so I was absolutely primed to be far nicer to this movie than I might otherwise have been. However, after years of dealing with culture war bullshit on social media, I’m just so exhausted when I encounter that kind of content. That’s what the experience of watching Rise of the Antichrist is like – like reading some fuckin’ conservative grifter’s post on X and just feeling all the energy drain out of you at the thought of having to make a response to this shit yet again. Rise of the Antichrist makes me want to not waste time thinking or writing about it, but… well, here we are. I did this to myself, after all…

We’ll get the good stuff out of the way first: Rise of the Antichrist is easily the second-best looking Left Behind movie, second only to the 2014 reboot. However, that movie also had a budget that was almost five times greater than this one, so the fact that it looks comparable is pretty impressive. It also absolutely puts the reported budgets of Left Behind: The Movie and Tribulation Force to shame (again, if you assume that those reported budgets were accurate, which I absolutely do not). Sorbo’s direction is very workman-like, but it’s still miles ahead of what we’ve seen from most movies in this series. In fact, after this entry I’d be willing to bestow upon the Left Behind franchise the prestigious distinction that they have now achieved the quality level of “theatrically-released evangelical movie”. That doesn’t sound impressive, but hey, it took them 22 years to get to that point.

And, uh, that’s about the nicest thing I can say about this movie. Suit up, we’re about to wade into the sewage…

Predictably, the big differentiation between Rise of the Antichrist and all the Left Behind projects that came before it is that this movie’s political message is overwhelming. If you agree with the fundamentally American, Republican party politics that this movie presents, then you’re probably going to have an easier time enjoying it, as it incessantly jerks you off from start to finish. If you do not agree with these politics, then they’re going to be a constant annoyance that makes engaging with the film on any other level an exhausting affair. This becomes apparent right off the bat, as the film opens with Buck interviewing a psychologist from the UN who claims that there is data to suggest that another wave of vanishings are coming. Buck spends this whole scene incredulous, asking her where she got her data from, and then where the people who got her the data got it from. Like, I get that he’s a reporter doing an interview, but what is he actually doing here? Dunking on this woman for not being able to personally verify the source of the information she has on live TV? She’s reporting the data that experts have apparently vetted. He has no actual reason to be skeptical of this data, he just is immediately hostile to the whole thing. It’s clearly intended to be a dig at “Trust the science” types, but there’s a certain point where you kind of have to accept what the majority of accredited experts are saying. You simply can’t look into everything yourself and can’t be educated enough for every important topic, so at a certain point you have to put trust in the community or you’ll drive yourself nuts. I’m not even saying to just blindly accept everything, or even to kowtow to what news media says. If there’s legitimate dissent, then there will be a sizeable counter-narrative which can be examined to see if it is accurate. However, if the vast majority of the people with knowledge on a subject are saying one thing, then there’s a pretty good chance that they’re right. Goddammit, the movie’s barely started and I’m already getting exhausted.

Anyway, this scene ends with Buck telling the audience “Don’t accept what the so-called experts tell you” and “Don’t sign up for a vanishings vaccine”…

Of course, we soon find that, “Oh my God!”, there has indeed been a second wave of vanishings! People’s phones start alerting them and they all head home in a panic. However, Buck soon discovers that this “second wave” was entirely fabricated and all of the people who were reported to have vanished never existed. I don’t even need to state explicitly that there’s a COVID-19 allegory here, do I? Hell, I have personally met people who believed that the pandemic was “fake”. Again, this is exhausting to even talk about – what good even is it for me to say that I personally knew a guy who died from the disease, that a lady at my church died of it, that several public figures were confirmed to have died of it, that the OG Rayford Steele freaking died of it? They can just go “Oh, those ones may or may not be legitimate, but the numbers are exaggerated.” Or they can pivot to the direction this film goes, that they’re manipulating the stats to control the public. Todd-Cothran’s role in this film is to manipulate the UN’s data to say whatever they want it to. Stonagal, on the other hand, has bought up media conglomerates and social media to push whatever narrative he wants, which will be backed up by Todd-Cothran’s data to seem convincing. Steve Plank, as head of GWN, goes along with this, saying that scared people will stay in their homes and be easier to control as a result. Hell, they call out “The Great Reset” in the movie by name multiple times as this sinister initiative to allow Stonagal to control the world. The funniest part about all of this is that Stonagal’s closest analogue in real life, the richest man alive who bought up a social media app with the intent of making an “everything app”, is goddamn Elon Musk – a man whose dick could not be further down Kevin Sorbo’s throat. Of course, this is because there is no principled stand going on here, it’s just Kevin’s political grift in action. Who would have thought that the man famous for celebrating January 6 while it was happening and then immediately saying that Antifa did it when it failed would be a man who just kowtows to whatever the popular conservative narrative is right now?

As you can expect, Rise of the Antichrist continues like this throughout its entire runtime. I don’t have the energy to try to address every single point, nor would it really be worth anyone’s time for me to do so. The important thing to note is that this movie does to Left Behind exactly what you’d fear a Kevin Sorbo Left Behind movie would do. Gone are the sincere attempts to change hearts and minds, instead replaced with masturbatory screeds of “Wow, can you believe how stupid those other people are?!”

In a lot of ways, the religious aspects of Rise of the Antichrist are comparable to previous Left Behind films – there’s still lots of altar calls, attempts to convince people that this was actually the Rapture and Jesus loves them, etc. For most of these prior films, it’s an element I barely feel the need to address (unless there’s some particular noteworthy fuck-up, like Ray Comfort’s awful evangelism tactics in Tribulation Force); usually, you either agree with what they’re saying, or you don’t and it completely falls flat. However, the confrontational tone that Rise of the Antichrist takes riles me up enough that it compels me to be more critical of the religious aspects than I otherwise would be: both for this film, and for Left Behind as a media franchise.

We’ll start with this film’s not-so-subtle message that real, true Christians (and the conservative Republican sorts who fall into that category) are the moral fabric of society. Buck’s opening monologue goes on about how, six months after the Rapture, the rates of murder, suicide, rape, robbery, vandalism, etc have skyrocketed by hundreds of percent each. This is supplemented by the assertion that America’s law enforcement and military have been “decimated” due to the Rapture (sorry, I can hear the intended audience making that wanking sound again). Nevermind that civilian vanishings should proportionately lessen the number of people to deal with for the police and military left behind – realistic speculation isn’t the point. The point, obviously, is to assert the common belief amongst fundamentalist types that you can’t be moral without being religious, a belief which has (unsurprisingly) been found to be false. When you remember that this film is intended to be turning its attention inward to preach to Christians, it’s really hard to deny that this film is doing anything other than fellating its audience. Like, I know I keep repeating this in such graphic terms, but it’s so annoying to me how, since God’s Not Dead, we’ve gotten this same routine over and over again, where so-called “faith-based” movies reinforce Christian prejudices in such a fawning, ham-fisted manner and encourage scorn of non-Christians.

So what is the actual sermon that this particular Left Behind movie is preaching to its audience? Basically, it boils down to “You can’t trust science and government to be arbiters of the truth. You can only trust The Bible for truth.” Kind of a standard evangelical sermon, but it’s particularly sinister in Rise of the Antichrist. Why, you may ask? Because this movie inadvertently shows the flaws in this lesson through the very premise they’re preaching. Let me explain: there are multiple scenes in this movie where some character will say “Oh yeah these events are terrible, but they were predicted right here in the Bible. And here’s what’s going to happen next, the Bible laid it all out for us!”

Here’s the thing: the Rapture isn’t real. The “Biblical prophecy” that these people claim is “right there in The Bible” is cobbled together from hundreds of verses across dozens of books of the Bible, stripped of their context and recontextualized into a new, unified narrative. Like, at one point in Rise of the Antichrist, Bruce Barnes saysThe Bible told us a one-world currency and government were coming.” Okay, but did it though? The “one world currency” idea comes from Revelation 13:16-17, where the Mark of the Beast is described: “It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.” That’s it, that’s the entire basis of this inevitable one-world currency that they say is clearly stated in The Bible. As for the one-world government, there are lots of verses about figures who will conquer the world, but Daniel 7 is one of the main ones. Go ahead, read it and then tell me how clearly it is telling you about a coming one-world government. Now, tell me which of these readings makes more sense:

  • That the Book of Daniel is intended to be a story to the Jewish people, who had been conquered and subjugated by multiple empires at the time, and remind them that, in the end, God would deliver them to freedom.
  • That the Book of Daniel is of no value to the places and times in which it was written. It’s actually a story for future people about the end of the world, an event so well-laid out by God that we didn’t even interpret it this way until the 1800s.

Shit like this is prevalent through Rise of the Antichrist. At one point, Rayford is trying to search his Bible app for information about “The Rapture” and “vanishings” and gets frustrated because they’ve been censored so he can’t find this information! How awful! Oh, what’s this? The Rapture isn’t even in The Bible, so he wouldn’t have been able to find it anyway? The movie even directly addresses this, when Chloe asks Bruce “What about all the people who claim the Rapture isn’t even in the Bible. Can you show me where it is?” Bruce responds with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Again, this is ignoring the context around the verses – this is describing the final return of Christ, not some event where the unrighteous get left behind. It’s not the irrefutable “proof” of the Rapture that they seem to think it is and it only really exists so Chloe and Buck can go dig up grandma to find that her corpse also got Raptured, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!?!!!?! I actually find this theologically offensive – are you telling me that her corpse is the vessel for her soul and she couldn’t go to heaven until Jesus took her body? Has grandma’s soul just been chilling down here all this time waiting for Jesus to get his ass in gear and return? I’m serious, this scene legitimately offended me and it’s about as Biblical as any other shit they spew in this movie.

This brings us to my issues with Left Behind and the prophecy industry as a whole. It’s founded upon beliefs which didn’t even exist until a couple hundred years ago. Hell, most denominations and sects of Christianity don’t even believe in The Rapture or the codified end-times theology Left Behind spews. However, because evangelicals have a virtual monopoly on the popular Christian media industry, it has become something which simply gets described as “Biblical prophecy” with zero pushback. Let me be clear – Left Behind is no more Biblical than Dante’s Inferno. You know what this sort of attitude actually is? Trusting the opinions of “experts”. End-times theology as we know it isn’t “right there” in the Bible for us all to see, we only believe it because people who subscribe to it have been preaching it for decades, to the point where evangelicals just kind of assume that it’s true now by default.

Furthermore, every single one of these movies has a big “She was right!” revelation, which causes the characters to turn to God. However, these moments always ring hollow for me. Tim LaHaye, Jerry B. Jenkins, Peter & Paul Lalonde, etc act like “She was right!” proves God’s love for the characters, to the point where they are always left crying at the revelation. Simply put: it doesn’t. I’ve said plenty of times throughout this Retrospective that, in the face of the Rapture, you could quickly accept that this was God’s doing. People aren’t so stubborn that seeing literal, unexplainable miracles wouldn’t cause them to second-guess their position as an atheist. I just went on a tirade against end-times theology, but if the Rapture happened tomorrow and I got left behind, I’d reconsider my position on these beliefs and try to convince others to do the same. However, I wouldn’t be trying to save people because I’ve been convinced of God’s love and mercy. I’d be doing it because I now know that He’s real and that He’s about to go on a seven-year tantrum where He’s going to send people to hell for eternity. Legitimately, the world of Left Behind paints a reality where I am more righteous than God and His followers are a bunch of cultists suckered into believing He is good, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. And people wonder why some people absolutely hate Left Behind

Also, there’s a scene in this movie with white boy dream-Jesus where it looks like he’s about to announce that “IT’S MORBIN’ TIME!”

That’s a whole lot of words dedicated to politics and theology in this movie. You could look at all that and go “Oh, you didn’t like this movie because you’re biased against it!”, but I wrote all of that because the politics and theology are easily the most interesting aspects of the movie to dig into. For the most part, Rise of the Antichrist is a rather dull movie where little of consequence actually happens. The cast are mostly wasted here. Kevin Sorbo himself could maybe be an alright Rayford Steele, but he’s sleepwalking through this movie, even moreso than Nic Cage was. Neal McDonough could make for an entertaining villain, if he had more than like two minutes of screentime. His higher-profile within the cast is not even an effective red-herring either, since Nicolae is such an iconic villain in his own right, and because Nicolae’s presence in the narrative is completely superfluous unless he is the “twist” villain. For that matter, Bailey Chase gets barely any time to make an impression as Nicolae, isn’t even trying to sound Romanian, and is very dry in the role. Worst of all though is Greg Parrow’s Buck Williams. It’s not a bad performance per se, but it is insufferable. Parrow plays Buck as relentlessly smug, constantly talking down to people, combative, and dismissive of those he disagrees with. He comes across less like a relentless truth-seeker and more as a massive, know-it-all tool.

While Sorbo’s direction here is fairly competent for the most part, there are still some weird and downright bad decisions which drag the film down. First of all, why the hell is this movie two hours long!? This movie is the exact same content which formed the last hour of Left Behind: The Movie, which means that they’ve effectively stretched it out to double the runtime. Remember how I said that Left Behind: The Movie largely succeeded because it was really well-paced, which kept the conspiracy plotline interesting? Well, now imagine what happens to that pacing when you double the time in which it has to be told. Suffice to say, Rise of the Antichrist absolutely drags and is a far more boring adaptation for it. The most illustrative comparison would be the titular “rise of the Antichrist” scene, where Nicolae reveals his powers to the UN. In Left Behind: The Movie, this scene was easily the best in the entire movie: it was tense, surprising, and it effectively established just how sinister and threatening Nicolae was. In Rise of the Antichrist, we’ve barely even seen Nicolae before. There is no threat to his words or actions. I don’t give a shit about Buck, because he’s a tool. There is no sense that he’s in any danger. It is such a limp version of this scene that it single-handedly begs the question of why we even got this movie to begin with when it is so inferior to what came before.

In terms of bad filmmaking choices though, there is absolutely nothing that holds a candle to this film’s goddamn voiceover. For some ungodly reason, they decided that this movie needed to have Bruce Barnes narrating everything. On the one hand, they probably felt like they needed to find an efficient way to get the audience up to speed, since it had been seven years since the last movie was released and they had recast everyone. On the other hand, does it make any sense for the narrator to introduce us to Jonathan Stonagal and describe his motivations and character in the opening speech of the movie? Every time a major new character gets introduced, Bruce has to give us some sort of description of them. It also intrudes into scenes that should be tense and completely ruins them. The most egregious example would be when Buck is trying to sneak into Dirk’s apartment to get his laptop. For some reason Bruce has to chime in about how Buck couldn’t mourn his friend’s death. WHY THE HELL DO WE NEED YOUR OPINION ON THIS, BRUCE?! It’s the very definition of the unwritten rule that you’re supposed to avoid in film: “tell, don’t show”.

This movie also has a funny hallmark of any bad movie, and that’s that no one knows how to pronounce the name “Stonagal”. I’m not kidding in the slightest, Bruce’s opening narration pronounces it like “Stona-gall”, and then, not even five seconds later, Todd-Cothran calls him “Ston-a-gal”. And then Buck, Haim, and several other characters call him “Stone-a-gal”… and then, at the end, Nicolae starts calling him “Stone-a-gall”! It’s kind of hilarious that no one had any fucking clue how to pronounce this guy’s name and the director didn’t even seem to care either, because if he did he would have made sure everyone was on the same page.

In addition, there are some narrative choices which are pretty questionable. For one thing, this movie (conveniently) forgets that Rayford, Buck, Chloe, and Bruce had all ended the first Left Behind movie accepting that the Rapture had occurred. Here, they’re having to completely relearn this, which adds probably an hour of bloat to the runtime. Another choice which really rubs me the wrong way is that Kevin Sorbo has made his own character, Rayford Steele, more “important”. In the books and all the other adaptations, Bruce Barnes immediately realizes what happened when he was left behind and immediately sets about preaching the gospel. He’s the spiritual center and leader of the Tribulation Force, which makes his death in Tribulation Force so impactful. However, in Rise of the Antichrist, he has apparently just been fucking around for six months, until Rayford Steele comes around and, in Bruce’s own words, saves him. Like, you could argue that he’s depressed about losing his whole congregation and being wrong for not believing, but having Rayford be the one to motivate and lead Bruce back to Christ fundamentally alters these two characters. This feeling really got cemented for me towards the end of the film. When the group are speculating that Jonathan Stonagal could be the Antichrist, Rayford pipes up “What about Nicolae?” Despite having absolutely no reason to even suggest Nicolae as an option, of course you’re going to make your character be the one who was right, Kevin. Bloody hell…

All this said, there is one really big narrative change which is… bold, to say the least. As we saw in Left Behind: The Movie, when Nicolae reveals himself as the Antichrist, Buck keeps his head down out of fear that Nicolae might realize that he was unaffected by his mind-control and therefore knows that Nicolae is the Antichrist. In subsequent books, he then takes advantage of his relationship to Nicolae to gather intelligence and undermine the Antichrist’s efforts against Christians. In Rise of the Antichrist, Buck immediately makes a broadcast announcing to the world that Nicolae is a liar and the Antichrist. I’m of two minds about this. On the plus side, making this announcement actually makes Buck look like a better journalist since his response to this event is to make the most important breaking news story of all time. On the more mixed side of things, this completely fucks up the narrative trajectory of the next several Left Behind books. Considering how bad these books can be, this may not be that bad of a thing, but I’m also not convinced that Cloud Ten will do them any better either. On the more negative side of things though, this change just isn’t worth it in my opinion. For one thing, I prefer the more subtle, intrigue-filled storyline where Buck has to be careful not to blow his cover while getting close to the Antichrist, while also constantly wondering whether Nicolae has any suspicions about Buck. It’s a much richer narrative territory than immediately having him be on the run and pursued by Nicolae’s forces. Secondly, this undermines everything they had tried to establish with Nicolae, immediately clowning on him the moment he’s introduced. He’s a lot less sinister and terrifying if you can just openly defy him without facing any consequences. Thirdly, it’s not like Buck keeps this information to himself, it gets spread throughout the Christian community and becomes common knowledge pretty quickly.

I complained a lot about the politics of this movie, but ultimately Rise of the Antichrist isn’t very good, whether you agree with the politics or not. Very little of interest actually happens in it across its painfully-long runtime. You are far better off just watching Left Behind: The Movie, which is a considerably more watchable and better-executed version of this story overall.


So what’s next for Left Behind? Well, like I said, Kevin Sorbo has threatened to direct another sequel, so if that is on-schedule we should be hearing about that any time now. Given how demoralizing this movie was for me, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, and it just makes me even sadder that the Kirk Cameron movies didn’t get the opportunity to continue. Like, as bad as those movies could be, there was at least an earnestness to them which shines through when you compare them to the last three “efforts” we’ve gotten.

Here’s how I’d rank the series overall:

  1. Left Behind: The Movie – 5/10
  2. Left Behind (2014) – 3.5/10
  3. Left Behind III: World at War – 3/10
  4. Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist – 3/10
  5. Left Behind II: Tribulation Force – 2.5/10
  6. Vanished: Left Behind – The Next Generation – 2/10

Thanks for sticking with me for another Retrospective! This was a lot of work for the past month, taking up a lot of my free time during the week. I’m not sure when/if I’ll do another one of these, but I am intending on starting a new Love/Hate series and resuming the looks at the Resident Evil games soon. Stay tuned for these in the near future!

Retrospective: Vanished: Left Behind – The Next Generation (2016)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! In this entry we’ll be going over the fifth film in the franchise, Vanished: Left Behind – The Next Generation… and, guys, I’ve been stoked for this one. Storytime: I was already interested in reviving the Retrospectives series here for Left Behind and thought I already knew of every movie in the franchise, but when I was looking up information about these movies, I stumbled across this off-beat entry that I had never heard of. Is this… Left Behind meets The Hunger Games!? My mind raced with the possibilities that this bizarre entry could be holding and that was the point that I decided that I was definitely going to do this Retrospective.

A bit more background here is also worth mentioning: Left Behind: The Kids was (for better or worse) my introduction to Left Behind as a franchise. As a kid, I would peruse my church’s children’s library and check out the edgier, more exciting stuff, so there was no way I was going to miss this series about mass death and the end of the world. I got hooked on The Kids books and eventually moved up to the full Left Behind novels from there. It’s been more than twenty years since I last read them, but I recall them being far more exciting, well-paced, and well-written than the main series (although Jerry B. Jenkins was hammering several The Kids books out per year, alongside full Left Behind novels, so there are apparently major continuity issues in these books that I didn’t notice as an 11 year old). As I alluded to in the World at War retrospective, the main Left Behind novels make the somewhat bone-headed decision of having its two principle expies, er, I mean characters be incredibly important figures (one, a world-renowned journalist personally working under Nicolae, and the other, Carpathia’s personal pilot). As a result, they’re rarely caught up in any of the major disasters and these events kind of just pass us by. However, the Left Behind: The Kids books are what they say on the tin – it’s a bunch of normal kids and teens just trying to survive and who absolutely get swept up trying to survive in whatever massive disaster is afflicting the world this week. Look, I don’t recommend reading Left Behind, but if you really want to experience it yourself, The Kids books might be the most palatable way to do it.

Anyways, all that said, I’ve been itching to get to this entry ever since we started. What could a young adult Left Behind movie do to stand out from its various failed predecessors? Read on to find out…

Oh great, another really boring poster that communicates absolutely nothing about what this movie is about… that said, it absolutely nails the YA aesthetic, so it’s doing something correctly. The second I saw this I knew exactly what this movie was trying to be, even if there’s nothing “Left Behind” about this poster.


Vanished would be the first Left Behind movie to be produced without the involvement of Cloud Ten Pictures. Information about how this happened isn’t clear, but I can see two possibilities for how this happened. Remember how a big part of the Tim LaHaye v Cloud Ten Pictures lawsuit revolved around control of the rights to Left Behind: The Kids? Well, either the settlement which was reached in 2008 granted these rights to Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, or Namesake retained these rights and chose to license them to a different studio. Whatever the case, Vanished seems to have been the brainchild of Randy LaHaye, grandson of Tim LaHaye. Randy had grown up hearing his grandfather bitching about how much he hated the Cloud Ten movies (for the record, this is not a joke), and promised him that, someday, he’d make an adaptation that could make him proud. Around 2013, Randy was watching Twilight and realized that a YA film could be a great way to introduce a new generation to Left Behind. As he saw it, kids were fascinated with dystopian fiction (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, etc), so they could slide very easily into the dystopian world of Left Behind.

Vanished would be very loosely based on the first Left Behind: The Kids book, The Vanishings – basically just adapting the premise of the Rapture and it being told from a YA perspective. Leaning into contemporary YA tropes, a love triangle was also made into a central aspect of the narrative in order to appeal more to a wide audience. Directing duties would go to Larry A. McLean, a veteran, workman TV director.

For the cast, the lead role of Gabby would go to Amber Frank, who was probably best known for The Haunted Hathaways at the time. Her hunky best friend (or maybe something more?) Josh would be played by Mason Dye, probably the most recognizable member of the cast, because he put in a fantastic performance as Jason Carver (the psycho jock) in the fourth season of Stranger Things. The other male lead, the brooding and mysterious Flynn, would be played by Dylan Sprayberry, who you might recognize from Teen Wolf or for playing young Clark Kent in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. Rounding out the main cast was Keely Wilson as Gabby’s younger sister, Claire. The film would also feature Tom Everett Scott as the megalomaniacal Damon, and Randy LaHaye himself as… Nicolae Carpathia!?! Yeah, you read that right, in one of the most insane (and possibly appropriate?) casting decisions ever, Tim LaHaye’s own grandson portrays super-Hitler. Maybe it’s for the best though – he was originally going to play a race-swapped version of Bruce Barnes, which would have been weird at best… not that Bruce’s race has been written to actually matter in the slightest in these stories, so it’s not like he needs to be African-American in that regard. However, he’s also one of the few prominent black characters in the franchise, so removing that aspect of the character would not be a good look at all. Anyway, Randy LaHaye said that he wanted to give Nicolae a bit more nuance, to make him less of a cartoonish villain, someone that people could actually look at and see why people would become deceived by him. So, in the spirit of this idea, he based his character’s big speech to deceive the world on… Obama’s speech to the UN… Oh shit, nevermind, we’re back to the really unfortunate racial optics.

GOD dammit Randy!!!

As for production of the film, there are actually some pretty interesting stories to be told here. First of all, the movie has an executive producer credit for goddamn Rick Santorum. Secondly, the production companies for this movie are kind of fascinating. On the one hand, we have Triple Horse Studios, whose website boasts that they are “a Content Creation Company with extensive technical capabilities”. Wow, such an artful description of your work, I’m inspired to the core. Kidding aside, they are responsible for The Case For Christ, which is, by most estimates, one of the best “capital-C Christian” films ever made. On the other hand, we have Salt Entertainment Group, which seems to have immediately gone defunct as soon as this film was made. And then, most intriguingly, there’s Faith Capital Group. “Oh cool,” you say to yourself, “is this just a conglomerate of evangelicals pooling money together to fund Christian projects they like?” That’s what I assumed, but… okay, I can’t find a definitive confirmation, but I think they’re actually an Arab company based out of Kuwait, throwing money around at various projects. Definitely take that with a lot of salt, because I wasn’t able to get a direct confirmation that this is the same Faith Capital, but it’s such a fascinating possibility that I had to mention it.

Filming would take place in Savannah, Georgia on a budget reported to be around $2 million… by far the lowest of any film in the franchise. Tim LaHaye would manage to see a rough cut of the film and gave it his enthusiastic endorsement before his death in the summer of 2016. Randy LaHaye had hopes to adapt seven films total, with hopes of having the first sequel underway in 2017, depending on the reception of Vanished. The film would get a limited, one-day theatrical release on September 28, 2016, but it failed to make an impact and the proposed sequels fizzled away into nothingness…

Plot Synopsis

Gabby Harlow is living with her mother and younger sister, Claire, when suddenly a billion people vanish in the blink of an eye and the world is plunged into chaos. When Gabby’s mother disappears, she, along with her neighbour and best friend, Josh, try to find Claire. They find her at a local restaurant, but she is being chased for unknown reasons. The pair catch up to her and find that she’s being protected by a local homeless teen, Flynn. They take shelter from the looting going on outside at a local church, where pastor Bruce Barnes gives them USB sticks explaining what is behind the vanishings. Before they can hear more, the church literally explodes and they flee. Gabby decides that they need to find her father, who lives outside the city. She calls him and he answers, but gets into a car crash and the line goes dead. Gabby, Claire, Josh, and Flynn all decide to head out to try to find him.

They eventually make their way to Gabby’s father’s home, but find that he is not there. Instead, the house is being occupied by a trio of bandits, who attack the teens. They flee, but Claire is wounded in the process. They find a farm compound nearby called “Sanctuary” which is owned by a man named Damon and his sister, Sarah. Sarah has studied medicine, and is able to stitch up Claire’s wounds, while Damon takes the boys on a tour of his facility. He has been preparing for societal collapse his whole life and so many of the people in the surrounding area have been coming to Sanctuary for aid. However, he advises that such help does not come for free, so they will have to work to pay for his help.

With Sam’s help, Claire’s injuries are healed. Josh watches the USB video Pastor Barnes had provided, which explains that the vanishings are due to the Rapture, and Josh shares this theory with the others. While working the next morning, Gabby and Flynn sneak into the woods to try to figure out their next steps and end up making out with each other. They then accidentally stumble on a secret compound where Gabby finds that her father has been taken prisoner as retaliation for trying to escape. Damon’s armed thugs realize that she has witnessed this, and Damon confronts Gabby, Flynn, Josh, and Claire to threaten them. However, Sam intervenes and promises to punish them herself… and then immediately sets them free. Predictably, Gabby and the others then go to free her father. Damon realizes what has happened almost immediately and sends his thugs out to kill them to prevent anyone from discovering that he is basically turning Sanctuary into an organization engaged in debt slavery. In the pursuit, Gabby’s father is shot and killed.

In honour of her father’s dying wish, Gabby, Flynn, and Josh decide to try to free the people trapped in Sanctuary. They succeed in the attempt, driving Damon into a rage as he pursues them and tries to shoot them. The group flee into an abandoned factory, where Damon corners them, but then falls through an unstable floorboard and dies. The group, having come to realize that Pastor Barnes was right, then return back to the city to try to spread this message to their friends. As they arrive, they see that the chaos has subsided and people have gathered to watch a video proclamation from Nicolae Carpathia, promising a new era of peace arising from the ashes of his chaos. They watch in fear, realizing that he is not the hope that he portrays himself to be…


So, how is Vanished? Well, let me put it this way: as I was watching it, I was finding myself coming up with nice things to say about Tribulation Force. Like, as bad as that movie is, at least the cast is pretty good and there’s some actual ambition on display, even if they lack the budget, script, or talent to execute it well. I’ve said it plenty of times, but if I find myself coming up with excuses about why a movie I hate isn’t as bad as the movie I’m watching, that’s when I know that I’m watching something truly awful. Vanished is easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, approaching The Room or Atlas Shrugged: Part III in terms of how poorly made it is. Maybe it’s “shame on me” for expecting this to at least be on-par with the other Left Behind movies in terms of quality, but I was honestly not expecting something this bad.

First of all, the YA elements are implemented in such a transparently cynical manner. Even at the start of the 2010s YA boom, the love triangle trope was already seen as a nothing more than a cynical marketing move to appeal to the Twilight crowd, so having a movie that’s blatantly ripping off the cynical copies makes Vanished feel even more painfully forced. First off, we have Josh, Gabby’s goody-good best friend/neighbour who clearly has been developing some simmering tension with her. They’re kind of cute, playful dorks together, setting him as the “good” option. Then we have Flynn, who is clearly the “dark”, “mysterious”, and “edgy” option. He’s literally homeless, having been abandoned by his addict parents. Despite barely knowing him, Gabby inexplicably has the most sexual tension with him, with the pair engaging in a rather passionate (for an evangelical movie) make-out session. Unfortunately, the love triangle isn’t really developed at all, it just kind of happens when it wants to and we’re left to assume that Gabby’s conflicted, when she clearly doesn’t even care outside of scenes where she’s supposed to. Like, we get a scene where Josh and Gabby have a cute dance together since the Rapture caused them to miss homecoming, and then the next day Gabby’s off in the woods making out with Flynn after zero build-up. We don’t really get any conflict or indecision from Gabby over her feelings for these boys. It’s just assumed that this is a YA movie, so she has to pick between them and boy would it be dramatic if she flip-flops in every scene! Actually, it’s even funnier than that, because the climactic scene of the movie involves the bad guy literally saying he’s going to shoot one of the boys and Gabby has to pick which one lives. Hilariously, to this she yells “I CAN’T DECIDE!”

The love triangle isn’t the only cynical trope lifted from the YA scene wholesale though, because Vanished makes the baffling decision of being a dystopian apocalypse movie. This may have been riffing on The Hunger Games, Divergent, or The Maze Runner, but it ends up making Vanished feel more like The Walking Dead than any of its YA contemporaries. I’m not even exaggerating here – in this movie, as soon as the Rapture happens, apparently society completely collapses. We’ve got people attacking cops, roving bandits, food and medical scarcity, and wannabe-kings rising out of the ashes. It’s an incredibly weird choice for the adaptation for multiple reasons. For one thing, it’s completely different than all other Left Behind media, where the Rapture causes life to get disrupted for a few days, but more-or-less keeps going as normally. Based on this expectation, it took a while to “get” that they were going for something completely different here (and even then, I really “got” it when I realized “oh, they’re just ripping off all the dystopian YA movies). Secondly, it doesn’t really make sense that society would completely fall apart in a single day due to the Rapture. Maybe this is just because we have since lived through COVID-19, but I’d expect major supply chain issues and months of collective trauma rather than the complete breakdown of society. Government and law enforcement are still going to be intact. Communication infrastructure is still functioning. There’s no reason to believe that people would start eating each other in an instant. Again, it’s clear that this was done to shove in another YA trope in hopes of appealing to “the youths“.

That said, at least Vanished took a look at the hundreds of millions Raptured estimates from the previous films and said “Those are rookie numbers”. Apparently the number of people Raptured this time is around one billion… Forgive me for going on a tangent here, but these numbers still feel insanely low. First off, there are approximately two billion Christians world-wide. Of course, we know that the authours of Left Behind definitely do not believe that this number is representative of the number of “true” Christians, which would go some way to explainly why their numbers are far lower. However, what it does not account for is the children – in Left Behind, there is explicitly an “age of accountability” where God does not consider you morally culpable to your actions, and therefore “Christian” by default as far as the Rapture is concerned. Vanished makes the incredibly bold decision of setting this cut-off at eleven (if I’m remembering correctly, I believe that this cut-off is around thirteen in the books). In 2016, approximately 25% of the world’s population were under the age of fifteen, out of a total global population of 7.5 billion… so, if we assume that the age of accountability cut-off is ten and only account for two thirds of that percentage, then we’re still looking at approximately 1.2 billion children alone, without even factoring in a single Christian. I shouldn’t be surprised that evangelicals are bad at math, but here we are.

I present this screen cap without context. Have fun speculating over what you’re looking at.

Tying into the limp and cynical usage of YA tropes, the writing in Vanished is just plain bad. I think that the cast here probably have talent, but you’d never know it with this script. Gabby is a complete personality-void, stumbling from scene to scene as the script requires her. Meanwhile, my descriptions of Josh and Flynn as the “good boy” and the “bad boy” describe their YA tropes, but are also pretty much the extent of their characterization. And Claire’s here as little more than a burden that they have to babysit. There’s no character development at all, other than the obligatory “come to Jesus” moments that every Christian movie has to have… which, honestly, is a trope unto itself, so if not for the writers being slaves to every trope possible, I doubt there’d even be that much development. Meanwhile, the villain is a complete psycho for no good reason, although at least Tom Everett Scott gets to ham it up towards the end (although he is absolutely no Gordon Currie).

Then we’ve got overly-convenient writing which is so transparent as to be absurd. For example, all the kids are assembled at Bruce Barnes’ church. How can we get them out of here quickly so they don’t know anything about the Rapture yet? Oh, I dunno, how about a gas leak that gets introduced and then happens in the span of like five seconds? It’s kind of hilarious, because if you sneezed at the wrong moment, you could literally miss the entire “gas leak and then church explosion” – it’s introduced and over that quickly. Oh, and then there’s the part where Damon’s so mad about Gabby and Flynn snooping around at his penal facility that he’s threatening to shoot them. His sister, Sarah, says she’ll deal with the kids… despite explicitly saying that she doesn’t know anything about Damon’s nefarious activities, so why would he even trust her with punishing them…? In any case, Sarah immediately lets the kids leave, causing them to immediately cause even more trouble for Damon. The movie proclaimed him as a full-on “genius” in his introduction and he doesn’t even think to follow-up with her to confirm what she did? It just makes him look like a complete idiot. It’s also pretty baffling that a movie about the Rapture spends about 80% of its runtime dealing with a completely unrelated, relatively low-stakes problem where some random asshole has taken Gabby’s father captive for… “reasons”.

Beyond all that though, Vanished‘s writing just makes absolutely no sense. For a very basic example, the Rapture happens and then a few hours later Gabby calls her dad. We find out later that this conversation happened as he was escaping from Sanctuary… so you’re telling me that, in a matter of hours, society instantly collapsed when the Rapture happened, he went to Sanctuary for help, tried to rebel against them, and escaped…? For that matter, who exactly is Damon worried will find out about Sanctuary? He seems to believe that the government has collapsed and that communication systems were wiped out world-wide by an EMP, who exactly does he think is going to stop him…? Like, literally no one would even care what he’s doing if he wasn’t beating up and trying to kill people for leaving, it’s such a brain-dead “plan”.

Going hand-in-hand with the abysmal writing, the filmmaking on display here is incredibly shoddy, on the level of a bad student film. I’ll give it this at least – the filmmakers at least have heard of lighting, so in that regard it gets a leg-up compared to the first two Left Behinds. However, in pretty much every other regard, this movie looks positively amateurish. Probably the most notable element that this movie is lacking is music. At one point, I was watching the film and was wondering why so many scenes that should be important, exciting, and intense ended up feeling “dead”, until it hit me that there is no soundtrack whatsoever. Check out this clip from the film, which is a perfect encapsulation of just how badly made this film is, and how much it suffers for having no music:

Ahh, the heroic sacrifice and emotional death scene, a classic story moment that has been captured on film tens of thousands of times over the years. However, between the awful direction, editing, and lack of music, Vanished can’t even pull this off well. The whole scene falls flat and was honestly the most I laughed in the whole movie. Vanished is amateurish to the point where we get a shot of military drones flying over a bus near the end of the film and I’m convinced that they forgot to put in any sound effects for them. For any other film, maybe I could be convinced that they just couldn’t be heard because the bus was drowning out the noise, but I give Vanished absolutely zero charity, because it does not deserve it.

All this said, I’ve got yet another hot take for this Retrospective series: Vanished has possibly the most fascinating turn of any Left Behind movie. As soon as the cast arrive at Sanctuary, the movie pivots hard from a weird, crappy, Christian version of The Walking Dead with only one zombie, to a movie about conservatives fighting each other. This isn’t a joke – Vanished‘s second and third acts become a story about conservative evangelicals pouring shit on conservative libertarians; it’s like stumbling across two baboons having a knife fight. Remember, this movie came out the same year that evangelical movies were fellating audiences by demonizing liberals and atheists, so seeing a movie where they turned inwards and had a purity war is fascinating to witness.

Damon is immediately introduced as a bit of an asshole who has been building up a life that is off-grid, self-sustaining, and away from government surveillance and who disdains certifications from formal education institutions. He also is up-front that he doesn’t “give any handouts”, so any help he offers is going to need to be paid back. He’s clearly meant to be an embodiment of libertarian ideals, but there’s a clear distaste for him in his introduction. We soon find that all of his neighbours have been coming to him for help. Since society has collapsed and he was the only one around who was prepared for this, he’s been using them to work the land to pay their debts. However, we soon discover that Damon is a hypocrite – he preaches libertarian ideals, but only because he can use them to put everyone around him into debt slavery for his own enrichment and empowerment. Everyone who pushes back and tries to leave sanctuary is beaten into submission or imprisoned, and when Gabby and her father try to escape in response to these punishments, Damon orders them all to be executed. There’s a clear undercurrent here that Damon is an evil asshole – people are coming to him for help, and he’s disproportionately exploiting that desperation instead of being a good, Christian neighbour. The climax of the film revolves around Gabby, Josh, and Flynn returning to Sanctuary to liberate the debt slaves, so it’s clearly being emphasized that this guy’s a complete piece of shit, while our Christian heroes are morally righteous. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s a shockingly based message for a Left Behind movie of all things, and the funny part is that it basically comes down to a spat between different varieties of conservatives. Unfortunately, despite having the best politics of any Left Behind movie, it’s also by far the worst one – just chalk that up as another example that my political biases don’t disproportionately affect my evaluations of these movies. Sometimes they just suck on their own merits.

Vanished is a brutally amateurish film, one that manages to make Cloud Ten Pictures look like master filmmakers… and, guys, how bad do you have to be to make me come to Peter and Paul Lalonde’s defense like this? Seriously? It doesn’t even have the courtesy of being entertainingly bad either, it’s mostly just terrible filmmaking combined with lazy, uninspired, uncreative rehashing of tropes ripped off of far superior films… and that “superior films” distinction includes every Twilight movie (yes, even New Moon and Breaking Dawn). Goddammit, you’re making me do it again, Vanished, why do you have to be so much worse than all these movies? And Rise of the Antichrist is next up for me! If you make me look at a Kevin Sorbo movie with more-lenient eyes, I’ll never forgive you…


Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the most recent entry in this series, Left Behind: Rise of the Antichrist!

Retrospective: Left Behind (2014)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! In this entry we’ll be going over the fourth film in the franchise, the Left Behind reboot. This was the last of the Left Behind films that I had seen prior to starting this retrospective series, and I remembered it having a very different feel compared to the original series. Could a bigger budget and more famous cast allow Left Behind to succeed on its second attempt? Read on to find out…

That’s about as boring a poster as you could expect from a 2014 Left Behind movie… Also, if you’ve actually seen the movie and, like me, have no idea who Jordin Sparks (the person on the left) is, then her inclusion on this poster is insane. I had to look her up after seeing this to realize that she was stunt casting.


Remember that lawsuit Tim LaHaye had been harrassing Cloud Ten over since before the very first Left Behind movie even released? Well, around the time that World at War released, LaHaye managed to appeal the suit dismissal, and once again the movie series was on hold as the parties fought back-and-forth over the rights to the franchise. Well, in 2008, Namesake Entertainment, Cloud Ten Pictures, and Tim LaHaye finally reached a settlement, with LaHaye dropping all his claims in exchange for a two-year window to create his own adaptation of the books. Wow, after all that, Tim LaHaye finally got what he wanted – an opportunity to see his work brought to life the way he always wanted! What an incredible victory for him!

…in 2010, no adaptation had been made and the rights reverted back to Cloud Ten Pictures.

What. The. Fuck.

Yeah, that’s really how this legal drama we’ve been covering for four movies now ended. Tim LaHaye was either the biggest troll alive, or he was completely unable to find anyone who wanted to produce this movie to his standards. What an absolute waste of the time and money of everyone involved, holy shit.

In any case, by this time it was now five years since the last Left Behind movie had released and Peter and Paul Lalonde, presumably, felt that continuing the existing franchise was no longer viable and that it would be a good opportunity to reboot the property instead. Furthermore, Paul Lalonde would reveal years later that, despite owning the series’ film rights, they actually only had the rights to make movies based on the first two books… which is right where World at War ended, so the only way to milk the franchise further at this point without making further agreements with LaHaye would be to reboot. To further cement the fresh start, Paul Lalonde founded a new production company, Stoney Lake Entertainment, and aimed to make this reboot with a wider audience in mind, closer to LaHaye’s original vision of a blockbuster adaptation.

In line with this ambition, the Left Behind reboot landed Nicolas Cage as its Rayford Steele in late 2012. Nicolas Cage’s brother, Marc Coppola, who is a pastor, actor and DJ, was a fan of the novel and was the one who pushed him to accept the role in the film. While definitely a big “get”, it’s worth explaining some context here for those of us living in 2024 when Nicolas Cage is cool again – in 2014, Nic Cage was at the peak of his “weird guy slumming it in every role he gets offered because he can’t stop buying t-rex skeletons” phase. Sure, he’d show up in a Kick-Ass every once in a while and absolutely kill it, but these bright spots were vastly outweighed by unhinged performances in The Wicker Man, Season of the Witch, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, etc, so there was a worry (or, for some film connoisseurs, hope) that he’d be running around on a plane screaming “WHY DID THEY DISAPPEAR!?!”

After Cage, the rest of the cast fell into place. Chad Michael Murray (best known for One Tree Hill and a fuckload of Hallmark Christmas movies) would be cast as Buck Williams. Ashley Tisdale (of Disney channel fame, including The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and multiple High School Musicals) was originally cast as Chloe Steele, but would drop out due to scheduling conflicts. The producers kept the role open for her to return as long as they could, but at the last minute they had no choice but to recast her with Cassi Thomson (best known for TV series Big Love and Switched at Birth). Jordin Sparks, winner of the sixth season of American Idol, would be cast as well in a fairly minor role, but due to her fame, she ended up getting one of the top-billing roles anyway. Nicky Whelan (probably best-known for the Australian soap opera, Neighbours) was cast as Hattie Durham. Rounding out the main cast, Lea Thompson (of Back to the Future fame) was cast as Irene Steele. Also in a small role, goddamn Martin Klebba is in this movie… he doesn’t get any billing, but I guarantee you’ve seen him before – he’s the little person in all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and he also punches that piece of shit Costa in the dick in Project X. Honestly, he’s more famous than anyone else in this cast, aside from Nic Cage and Lea Thomson, why the hell is he not getting top billing, cowards?

This time, directing duties would go to Hollywood legend Vic Armstrong. Mostly known for his work as a stuntman, Vic doubled for Roger Moore in Live and Let Die, freaking Christopher Reeve in Superman, and (most famously) had doubled for Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, Blade Runner, Return of the Jedi, and Patriot Games. This is an incredible record, but in terms of directing, he had mostly done some episodes of the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and a Dolph Lundgren B-movie up until this point.

The budget for this reboot was set around $16 million (somehow even lower than the budget of the original movie, assuming that that film’s numbers weren’t inflated… which, having seen this movie, I’m even more convinced that the reported $17.4 million budget for Left Behind: The Movie was complete bullshit). The script would be written by Paul Lalonde and John Patus, who had written the scripts for the previous Left Behind movies as well. Also, as a series first, filming did not take place in and around Toronto! Instead, the film was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in August of 2013. A private screening would be held for Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye and, this time, they were extremely pleased with the results (although it has been implied by family that Tim LaHaye’s endorsement was mostly done to drum up good publicity for the film).

Critics, however, would be extremely harsh. The movie has a freaking 0% Rotten Tomatoes score. And it wasn’t just the secular critics who hated it – Christian reviewers decried its production values, while… well, I’m gonna post Wikipedia’s excerpt from Christianity Today‘s review, because it is scathing:

Left Behind is not a Christian movie, whatever ‘Christian Movie’ could even possibly mean. In fact, most Christians within the world of the movie—whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele’s wife—are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying. They want churches to book whole theaters and take their congregations, want it to be a Youth Group event, want magazines like this one to publish Discussion Questions at the end of their reviews—want the system to churn away, all the while netting them cash, without ever having to have cared a shred about actual Christian belief. They want to trick you into caring about the movie. Don’t.” They also stated that they “tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won’t allow it.”

My God, I’ve never seen such a damning indictment of the Christian media marketing cycle, but there’s Christianity Today laying it bare and shooting it in the back of the head. Just brutal… Perhaps because of this vitriolic response, Left Behind would bomb at the box office, making just over $20 million (which, after marketing, would not have broken even). This was, by the way, occurring during a banner year for faith-based films, with such successes as Son of God, Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings (to be fair, this one was a bit of a bomb, but it was undeniably a very prominent, expensive, religious blockbuster), Heaven is For Real, and, oh I dunno, God is Not Dead.

Oh, and for the record: Stoney Lake Entertainment haven’t released another movie since Left Behind.

Plot Synopsis

Chloe Steele returns home from college to surprise her father, Rayford, for his birthday, but discovers that he won’t be home – he has unexpectedly taken a shift flying a passenger plane to London. While waiting to see him at the airport, Chloe meets television journalist Buck Williams and the pair hit it off, venting to each other their issues with hypocritical Christians after an unpleasant encounter with a woman in the airport. Chloe soon finds Rayford and realizes that he has taken this flight because he is engaging in an affair with flight attendant Hattie Durham, having grown frustrated with his wife, Irene, after she converted to Christianity. Disappointed, she returns home alone, while Buck boards Rayford’s flight to London and they depart.

Irene tries to plead to Chloe to understand her desire to see her come to Jesus, but Chloe rebuffs her and leaves to spend time with Raymie. However, while they are at the mall together, the Rapture occurs and suddenly hundreds of millions of people across the world disappear. The event causes mass panic, as in addition to several adults, every child disappears as well, including Raymie. Planes and cars crash as their drivers disappear and chaos erupts as people begin looting to take advantage of the situation. Chloe is caught up in the middle of all of this and tries desperately to find her family as the world goes to hell around her.

Meanwhile, up in the air, Rayford, Buck, and Hattie try to maintain order as several passengers are Raptured. After a near mid-air collision with a plane whose pilots were Raptured, Rayford’s plane is left crippled and leaking fuel. He turns back to New York to land and slowly comes to the realization that the Raptured passengers were Christians – his wife was right all along. Chloe comes to realize this as well as she finds that her mother has also disappeared.

As Rayford approaches New York, he is informed that there is no landing strip open for him, there are crashed planes at airports all over, so he needs to go further inland. With their fuel situation, this is impossible and Rayford tries to find an alternate solution. Buck manages to contact Chloe and he, Rayford, and Chloe concoct a plan to land the plane on an open stretch of highway under construction. Chloe manages to guide them in and Rayford barely manages to land the plane safely. As everyone looked out on the chaos which has enveloped the world, they muse that this isn’t the end of the world – it’s just the beginning of the end…


Okay, so I’ve got another hot take: the Left Behind reboot isn’t that bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good either, but it’s better and more entertaining than you’d expect considering the universal critical drubbing it got. Like, as of the time of writing this, Madame Web has a 12% Tomatometer and 57% audience score, whereas Left Behind has a 0% Tomatometer and 21% audience score. That just doesn’t feel fair to me considering the movie we actually got here. Maybe I’m being generous because I just watched two significantly worse Left Behind movies, but it’s arguably the most watchable entry in the franchise that we’ve covered so far (other than maybe the original movie). A lot of this comes down to the intent to refocus the franchise from a straight adaptation of the books and into more of a conventional disaster movie. This has its pros and cons, but it’s hard to be too harsh during the moments when you’ve got people dodging careening cars and airplanes, Nic Cage having to limp his crippled plane in for an emergency landing, or just soaking up the general chaos as the world goes to shit in an instant. Sure, these parts could be executed better, but they’re entertaining enough on a base level that you should find something to keep you interested.

That said, I had mentioned in my review of Left Behind: The Movie that that film managed to stay interesting because of its conspiracy theory plotline in the second half. This causes the Rapture to not outstay its welcome and keeps the pace snappy. However, this reboot excises the conspiracy aspects of the book entirely, meaning that the film needs to find a way to mine a lot of content out of the Rapture premise instead. Oh, and have I mentioned that this film is nearly two hours long? That’s a full ten minutes longer than the original despite featuring half as much narrative! As you might imagine, Left Behind is pretty slow and really stretches to fill that runtime. To give you an idea of how slow paced this movie is, it takes twenty minutes for the plane to even take off and the Rapture doesn’t happen until nearly forty-five minutes in. For comparison, Left Behind: The Movie gets Ray on the plane in about twenty minutes (despite also dedicating most of that opening runtime to the conspiracy plot we don’t have here), and then the Rapture happens five minutes later.

Now, to be fair, they do use this additional runtime to flesh out some aspects which are not very well established in the source material. In particular: we get a lot more insight into Chloe’s character, we get to see how Irene’s conversion has put strain on her marriage and her children, and we get insight into why exactly Chloe, Buck, and Rayford are so hostile to religion. However, this gets weighed down by several scenes with passengers who are little more than caricatures: we’ve got the quirky Alzheimer’s couple, greedy businessman, conspiracy theorist, Muslim dude (not to be crass, but that’s about the extent of his characterization), drug addict heiress, cute kid, angry little person, paranoid woman on the run from her husband, etc. Establishing the passengers is actually a pretty great idea. If we’re worried about these people being in peril, it should give the disaster sequences higher stakes. The problem is that they barely register as characters and you could easily cut out every scene they’re in and all it would do is make the pacing better.

Of course, once the Rapture does happen, a lot of that runtime is then taken up by utter chaos. I had completely forgotten that this movie makes the Rapture occur in broad daylight. I definitely prefer how, in the original movie, the Rapture happens subtly, resulting in this slow, creeping realization that something horrible and unexplainable has occurred, which soon develops into full-blown panic. That said, this change was clearly done to maximize the drama and chaos, because the second it happens, this film just explodes in a mass of screaming and running that would put a Black Friday news report to shame. It quickly gets to a point that is silly. This is best typified by Chloe’s storyline for most of this film, which can only be described as “Chloe and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. Not only did her plan to surprise her dad on his birthday get ruined by him, but then she finds out he’s cheating on her mom, she gets in a fight over religion with her mom, then her brother gets Raptured while she’s hugging him… and then she dodges a driverless car which careens through the mall doors, and then a fixed-wing airplane falls out of the sky and plows into her car, and then some hoodlums steal her brother’s backpack, and then a bus somehow nearly falls on top of her like thirty minutes after the Rapture happened, AND THEN she almost becomes collateral damage when a looter gets shot and gets a shotgun pointed in her own face, AND THEN her dad nearly lands a plane on top of her. It very quickly crosses the line from believable into ridiculous, and that’s just the shit that happens to Chloe.

Ray also has a bunch of insane things to deal with: not only does he have a bunch of passengers disappearing on his hands, but then the plane immediately hits violent turbulence (I guess they’re hitting all the souls on their way up?), his co-pilot gets Raptured while at the controls (hey, shout-out to Chris, Paul Lalonde wants to see you go to heaven more than Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins ever did!), they get into a near mid-air collision with a plane whose pilots were Raptured and damage the electronics and fuel lines in the process, the wing catches fire, they run out of fuel, and they can’t land anywhere. It gets exhausting how relentlessly they wring out every single potential bit of drama they can, but then they just keep going further and further, to the point where it’s practically comedic. I almost wonder how much of this comedy was intentional, because at the very end of Nic Cage’s makeshift runway, there’s a fuel truck that they come within inches of hitting, and it’s honestly a pretty great visual joke to punctuate how much shit they’ve been through during the film.

You may have noticed that I keep saying “dramatically”, and that’s possibly my biggest issue with this film – it is melodramatic as all hell. Your mileage will vary on how much you can stand this, but I found this incredibly grating and every time some “dramatic” moment happened I just got more and more annoyed. Like, a good chunk of those opening twenty minutes before the flight are just Chloe coming across more and more obvious evidence that her dad is cheating – seeing him flirting with Hattie, hearing his unconvincing denials, finding his wedding ring in the car, and being asked to pass him tickets for a U2 concert he’s going to see in London with Hattie (oh man, that show’s gonna have to be canceled since Bono got Raptured, right?). Oh, and we can’t just have the Rapture happen, that’s not dramatic enough – we have to make sure it happens at the very second that Chloe’s hugging her younger brother and telling him that she loves him. Or later, when she heads to the hospital, she wanders into the maternity ward for no real reason, other than to give us more melodrama when they reveal that every baby has been killed by God… er, I mean, Raptured away. Or how about how every single phone and radio call cuts out dramatically at the worst possible moment. I’m not kidding either, this happens at least five times that I counted.

However, it wouldn’t be a melodrama without a couple dramatic suicide attempts! In the one scene where she actually does anything, Jordin Sparks’ character steals a gun from a Raptured air marshal and goes into a paranoid delusion where she believes that everyone on the plane is involved in an elaborate plot to kidnap her daughter and demands that they give her back. This is ridiculous enough, but then Buck tells her to point the gun at him because he’s such a big hero, while Jordin is basically screaming “I’M NOT CRAZY, YOU’RE CRAZY!!!” And then, all that talking her down does is cause her to turn the gun on herself. They do manage to talk her out of it, but my God, this scene is kind of illustrative of why always putting the foot on the gas with the drama gets ridiculous at a certain point and robs scenes that deserve emphasis of their power. Case in point: Chloe also contemplates suicide by climbing to the top of a bridge to scream at God. It definitely seems to be implied that she’s going to end it, until Buck and dad call her at the last moment. Melodrama! Oh, also, it’s not the movie’s fault for this, but I need to mention that this scene has “Dancing in the Sky” playing in the background, so TikTok memes have turned this scene into an inadvertent joke in 2024.

You might have also noticed that I’m talking about Chloe a lot during this review and that’s because, honestly, she’s got most of the interesting material in this film. Nic Cage has top billing, but his performance is disappointingly subdued, to the point where he’s basically sleepwalking through the film. For those of us who were hoping he’d bring some entertainingly mad energy to the film, it makes his segments rather bland. And, unfortunately, Chad Michael Murray’s Buck Williams has basically nothing to do, other than help Ray and Hattie keep order on the plane and suddenly (and unconvincingly) fall in love with Chloe after only meeting once for a couple hours at the airport. He’s alright in the role, but has so little to work with that I can’t even really judge the performance. So everything kind of has to fall on Cassi Thomson’s shoulders, and thankfully she is probably the brightest spot in the film. It’s worth noting that Chloe feels like an actual important character in this iteration, not just a burden or a love interest like she is in the books or the previous movies. Hell, they even managed to give her a key role to play in saving the day, so clearly there’s been some conscious effort put in to elevate her to equal importance in the main cast.

We’ve waded through a lot of negativity through this review so far, but I want to address perhaps the most interesting aspect of Left Behind, and that’s how it portrays Christians. Upfront, this film is hostile to Christians, and I don’t mean that the characters are disparaging to them – I mean that Christians themselves are straight-up portrayed negatively. When we get introduced to Buck, he’s getting pestered by an evangelical who is trying to preach to him. Chloe intervenes to dunk on her with facts and logic, and the woman is unable to respond. This woman is clearly being portrayed as the asshole in this situation, and the crazy part is that they are right to do so. She is being an asshole, and this is probably how this situation would play out in real life. It’s a level of introspection and self-flagellation which is kind of insane, especially considering that God is Not Dead came out this same year, and… well, that film did not have anywhere near the same level of self-awareness. After this encounter with the evangelical woman, Chloe tells Buck about how her mother says that major disasters are a good thing, because they’re a sign from God, which is a nakedly ghoulish way to look at the world. Later, Chloe gets into an argument with her mother about God and how disappointed she is that her father isn’t home. Instead of trying to empathize with Chloe, Irene says that God brought her home for a purpose, to which Chloe snaps back: “God did not bring me home. […] God is the reason dad is not here right now.” This stings because it is absolutely true. Ray confides to Chloe that people change as they get older and this can cause them to grow apart, and it’s clear that Irene is the one who has put a major strain on her relationship with her family. She wants to share her new faith with her family, but however she is doing it, it is not succeeding and that is entirely on her. Looking at all this, I can see why Christianity Today had such scathing things to say about Left Behind – on its surface, this movie is absolutely shitting on Christians at every turn.

Here’s the thing though – I believe that this is entirely a ploy by Paul Lalonde and John Patus in order to draw in a secular audience. Shit on the Christians in the first act, tell the audience “Look, we agree that we suck too!”, and they’re more likely to stick around until you can get to the point where you can pull the rug out from under them. The film completely pivots once we get to the obligatory “She was right” moment of realization for Rayford and Chloe. After shitting on Christians throughout the first act, and then spending a good chunk of the second act on disaster melodrama, it suddenly drops the sermon on you without warning and starts getting far more blunt with its intent. Early in the film, Buck and Chloe are speaking about a story he had covered, where a woman had her entire family die in a tsunami, except for one child. She thanked God for saving her and her baby, but then refused to evacuate and they both died in a mudslide. It’s pretty clear from this story that that person’s outlook was, at best, incredibly strange, if not foolish – it seems perfectly justified for her to be mad at God in this situation. However, when the Rapture occurs and suddenly our characters are in their own disaster, it became pretty obvious what this film’s theme is: “People come together during a disaster and learn to trust in God”. All the stuff the film was shitting on earlier becomes vindicated, and this isn’t just subtext either: Rayford says how it was his fault that he didn’t listen to Irene. However, I disagree entirely – she is the one who changed and created the divide. Rayford didn’t have to change with her and clearly was not convinced to do so. People change and sometimes that creates an irreconcilable difference. It sucks, but it happens. Oh, also, I find it really funny how Ray starts talking about how God caused the people to disappear, which causes Hattie to say “What has happened to you? Why are you talking like this? You’ve never spoken about God before. Where’s this coming from?” I dunno bitch, maybe a little thing called THE RAPTURE happened and changed my viewpoint. Fucking hell, even the unbeliever dialogue starts getting dumb at this point…

Ultimately, I find this interesting, because we’ve seen a bunch of different approaches through these movies to try to reach people. If the intent of Left Behind is to get the message out that the Rapture is coming and non-Christians need to be warned about it, then a film that’s stripped back and focused on this event is probably the right call, as is “watering down” the preaching in favour of spectacle for a more mainstream appeal. However, it also demonstrates that you can downplay all you want, but this is still unquestionably a “Christian movie”. Poo-poo Christians all you want at the start, but when the message is delivered bluntly like this, you’re going to alienate the mainstream audience you want to court. If anything, watering down the message only serves to piss off the core Christian audience who usually can be counted on to see these kinds of films. This is kind of counter-intuitive, but also probably explains why this film bombed so hard in a year when faith-based films that feverishly jacked off the Christian audience were doing major numbers.

All-in-all, Left Behind isn’t a particularly great movie. It’s cheap, but compared to the previous Left Behind films, it’s practically a blockbuster in terms of presentation. However, once the Rapture happens it at least manages to be somewhat entertaining on a pure, dumb disaster movie level. It sorely could have done with some better pacing and maybe easing back on the melodrama, but I’ve seen much worse out of this series. Congrats, Left Behind franchise, you’ve graduated from church basement movie, to made for TV movie, to B-movie!


Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Vanished: Left Behind – Next Generation!

Retrospective: Left Behind III – World at War (2005)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! In this entry we’ll be going over the third film in the franchise, Left Behind III: World at War. I had previously seen the first two Left Behind movies as a kid, but had never had a chance to see this third movie… and, honestly, I was always kinda disappointed about that. Like I said in the first entry, edgy, 11-year-old me got into this series to read about mass death in a way that would be acceptable to my evangelical parents. A Christian movie about World War III always piqued my curiosity and had a good chance of leaving me satisfied one way or another – either it’s somehow actually kinda cool and has an exciting world war, or it’s bad and I get to make fun of it. Which way would it shake out for World at War? Read on to find out…

Certainly not a good poster, but it’s miles more professional than the previous two films’ attempts.


By the time that Left Behind II: Tribulation Force was released on home video, Cloud Ten were already promising that a third film was on the way and would feature that novel’s excised climax – World War III. I’ve already complained enough about the effect that this had on that previous movie, but the idea of this war getting a full movie to flesh it out was exciting enough. I have previously mentioned that Left Behind books tend to revolve around some massive disaster, but what I didn’t mention is that Jerry B. Jenkins kind of sucks at actually portraying these disasters. For example, there is a massive, global earthquake in the book Nicolae, which kills a full quarter of the world’s population in a matter of minutes. As I recall, this event gets a couple pages of reference, and it’s not even from the ground – it’s Ray flying in his plane above, watching all devastation occur. This is contrasted against the Left Behind: The Kids series, where the same event takes up about half a novella and features the point of view shots of several characters on ground-level. Anyway, point being that the Left Behind movies, once again, had a potential to greatly improve upon their source material.

With the Tim LaHaye lawsuit dismissed, Cloud Ten were able to put a lot more focus into this third Left Behind film. Cloud Ten were, obviously, keenly aware of the budgetary issues that a World War III movie presented and, perhaps because of this, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment were brought on to help produce and distribute this film. It seems that Paul & Peter Lalonde were keenly aware that their evangelizing focus in Tribulation Force (predictably) alienated the people they were trying to preach to, and so hoped that partnering with Sony could help them to reach a wider audience.

Once again, most of the original cast reprised their roles: notably, Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Gordon Currie, Janaya Stephens, and Chelsea Noble. David Macniven also (briefly) returns as Chris after his big salvation scene in the prior movie. However, notably, Clarence Gilyard Jr. was unable to return as Bruce Barnes due to scheduling conflicts (reportedly, Gilyard Jr. is a Catholic and his priest was happy about this because Left Behind‘s theology is basically heresy to them). The role was replaced by Arnold Pinnock, an English actor who has been in tons of TV and small roles over the years. The biggest new cast member for World at War though was undoubtedly Louis Gossett Jr., who had won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for An Officer and a Gentleman. Gossett would be playing President Fitzhugh. According to Gossett, “All the predictions in the Bible seem to be coming true. I wanted to be connected to a film that was making that statement.”

Directing duties would once again be handled by a different workman director; this time Craig R. Baxley would be in the chair. Baxley was more known for his stunt work and second unit directing, having worked on The A-Team, 21 Jump Street (the TV show), and The Dukes of Hazzard. His biggest credit though would be stunts and second unit directing on goddamn Predator, so there was hope at least that his pedigree could result in a movie with some serious action chops.

As with previous Left Behind films, filming would occur in and around Toronto. After some delays, production began February 21, 2005 and would wrap nearly a month later. Budget totals are unclear, but I’ve seen estimates ranging from approximately $4.5 million to $17.5 million. Also like before, World at War skipped a full theatrical release, instead going straight-to-DVD and screening the film at over 3000 churches. Prior to the release, Peter Lalonde confidently stated: “Wait until they see it. Then people will be saying, ‘I hope there’s a Left Behind 4.'”

Spoiler alert: There would be no Left Behind 4

Plot Synopsis

World at War opens with Fitzhugh in the bombed-out remains of the White House, filming a confession as someone appears to confront him…

It then flashes back one week earlier, where the Tribulation Force are conducting a raid on a Global Community facility where confiscated Bibles are being stored. Guards interrupt the raid and Chris is killed in the escape. We then cut to President Fitzhugh and his vice president, John Mallory, who are discussing intelligence that someone is planning on using biological weapons on American soil – the three biggest factions being the Christians, the militias, or Nicolae’s Global Community. Their motorcade is then ambushed, but third-party militia interrupt the attack and save the president, although Mallory is killed in the process.

We then cut to the Tribulation Force, where a dual wedding ceremony is underway. Buck and Chloe are married, and then Ray marries Amanda, a woman we’ve never met before until this scene. Fitzhugh meets with Nicolae about the attack on his motorcade and recognizes Nicolae’s personal assistant, Carolyn Miller, as one of the militia members who rescued him in the attack. He then captures and interrogates Buck, who Fitzhugh knows is connected with the Christians and that they’ve been stockpiling vaccines. Buck tells him that they’ve been doing this because of prophesized plagues and that he believes that Nicolae will be the one behind the biological weapons.

Fitzhugh arranges a meeting with Miller and the pair infiltrate a Global Community facility. Here they discover that Buck is right and that Nicolae is poisoning Bibles with chemical agents. The manage to escape the facility and meet up with the militia, creating a coalition between America, Great Britain, and Egypt which will launch a pre-emptive attack on the Global Community. However, Fitzhugh realizes that they need to kill Nicolae in order to win, and goes to assassinate him himself. However, Nicolae is aware of Fitzhugh’s intentions and, despite landing several shots on Nicolae, he is completely unphased by the attack. Nicolae reveals that he has already commenced bombing operations and that World War III is underway, before using his powers to Force push Fitzhugh out a window. However, Fitzhugh survives the fall through divine intervention and slinks back to the militia. Unfortunately, they believe the war is going disastrously and they believe that Fitzhugh sold them out.

Meanwhile, the Tribulation Force are in disarray. Bruce and Chloe have been exposed to the biological agents and are dying after caring for the sick at the church. Rayford and Amanda rush to be with them, while Buck feels that God is calling him to be in Washington. After some soul-searching, he confronts Fitzhugh in the White House and convinces him to come to Jesus. While this is happening, Chloe realizes that communion wine can be used to neutralize the biological agent, although this is discovered too late for Bruce, who succumbs.

Fitzhugh once again confronts Nicolae at Global Community HQ, who gloats over his victory. However, Fitzhugh has activated a satellite missile, which homes in on their location and obliterates it, killing Fitzhugh in the process. Nicolae is seemingly killed as well, but emerges from the flaming wreckage completely unscathed.


Right from the opening scenes, it’s apparent that World at War has a very different “feel” than its predecessors. I believe that this is down to two factors. First of all, World at War was the first proper post-9/11 Left Behind movie (Tribulation Force did come out in late 2002, but it would have been in production in the days and months following the event). The filmmakers would have been able to draw inspiration from the fallout of the disaster, the Anthrax attacks, the beginnings of the Iraq War, and the cultural paradigm shift occurring around them. Tonally, World at War feels like it has more in common with a mid-2000s, post-9/11 political thriller than it does with its two predecessors. I think the most notable factor though was Sony’s involvement. It seems that they brought guidance and a more professional atmosphere to the project, and you can clearly see this when comparing the production values of World at War to either of the previous Left Behind movies. I’ve been harping on this throughout this retrospective, but my God, it is refreshing to see a movie that’s competently lit; it makes such a massive difference at making this look like a real, professionally-made movie.

God said “Let there be light”, to which Peter and Paul Lalonde replied “Nah man, that shit’s too expensive”.

I will give some credit though to the filmmakers (and probably Craig R. Baxley in particular), because there are a couple pretty exciting moments peppered throughout the runtime. The opening sequence where the Tribulation Force break into a Global Community compound and steal confiscated Bibles is approaching legitimate action movie territory and is miles more exciting than any sequence in the prior two films. This quickly gets upstaged though by the ambush on the presidential motorcade, which opens with an incredible car explosion stunt. Seriously, this ambush sequence came out of nowhere and my jaw dropped at how spectacular the opening stunt was. It makes for an action sequence which is legitimately pulse-pounding, reminiscent of the ambush scene from Clear and Present Danger (albeit, far cheaper). Unfortunately, both of these sequences are pretty early in the movie, so it peaks very early and leaves you with some false hope that the war sequences might actually deliver.

We’ll keep the positivity going by moving onto the performances. Louis Gossett Jr. is absolutely acting his ass off in this movie, putting in by far the best performance in the entire franchise up to this point, and elevating the shlocky material he’s given far higher than it has any right to be. Arnold Pinnock also really leaves an impression as the new Bruce Barnes. Clarence Gilyard Jr. wasn’t exactly bad as Bruce, but (other than one scene in the first movie) he was given absolutely nothing to work with outside of being an exposition dump machine and his character was unable to leave any kind of impression. Here, he actually comes across as the leader of the Tribulation Force, and when he becomes sick with Nicolae’s biological agent, his acting is good enough that it could bring tears to your eyes.

I have to give one last special shout-out to Gordon Currie though, who cranks his hammy take on Nicolae Carpathia up yet another notch. He’s deliciously evil and smarmy, and has some incredible moments of villainy: disrespecting Fitzhugh by sitting in his presidential chair, tanking three shots at point blank range, using his powers to force Fitzhugh to stick a gun to his own head, and then deciding it would be funnier to make him choke himself instead, he Force pushes Fitzhugh out a window and then lampshades it when he miraculously survives the fall, and then walks off a goddamn missile strike like it was nothing. Absolute king shit. I said it before and I’ll say it again, Gordon Currie’s Nicolae is a low-key, all-timer villain, and his performance in this movie just cements that further for me.

Unfortunately, for all these good performances, there’s also some notably weak ones. Kirk Cameron has been tolerable through this series, but his constant boy scout charm isn’t really selling it for me when Buck’s going through some really emotional moments that should be leaving him far more shaken. His wife, Chelsea Noble, is also notably weaker here than in previous films, coming across like a personal screed against catty bitches moreso than an actual character performance. In some ways, this actually makes Hattie legitimately dangerous to Rayford, but it’s kind of wild how spitefully performed and written she is. Notably, Cameron and Noble were always the weakest of the original cast, but this is the first time that I feel like their performances dipped enough to actually merit some criticism… and, honestly, as far as movies like this go, it’s still not that bad overall.

As for Cloud Ten’s attempts to court a wider, more secular audience, the whole enterprise seems to be a fool’s errand. Explicitly Christian movies are kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If your entire purpose is to push a message, like Tribulation Force does, then you completely alienate the people you’re trying to preach to. If you scale it back, like World at War attempts to do, you still end up with a level of palpable preachiness which is going to alienate a wider audience and is also going to cause your core audience to believe that they’re “watering down the message to be like Hollywood”. World at War is definitely trying to entertain and is less-overtly pushing a message than the previous two films, but it’s still unmistakably preachy. For one thing, the Christian persecution complex is starting to actually show here, with Christianity outlawed, Christians getting shot, several characters likening them to terrorists, and government agents literally poisoning Bibles to kill off believers. Hell, Buck has a gun to his head and is told to renounce Jesus and refuses, a fantasy scenario which every evangelical has jerked themselves off to at least once in their life. There’s also plenty of scenes where the characters have to trust God in order to solve their problems, way to progress the plot which is basically meaningless unless you’re already convinced that Jesus is your saviour. Hell, the very idea that they could neutralize the effects of the chemical weapons attack with communion wine is absolutely insane and only makes sense if you think that communion holds some sort of special, elevated significance already.

Now, while the production value of World at War may be above its predecessors, that’s still not saying all that much. If the first movie was a glorified church basement movie, and the second was absolutely a church basement movie, this third movie has finally reached the lofty heights of a late-night, made-for-TV movie. Progress! Again, the lighting and direction really make the movie feel far better, even though World at War feels even cheaper than the previous two movies in some aspects. For one thing, there’s a lot more use of visual effects, with lots of sequences of people firing rockets, setting off massive explosions, throwing people through windows, etc. This definitely cost more than the miniscule visual effects in the previous two films, but the CGI used is so bad and so prominent that it ends up making World at War feel tackier. There’s also a lot of usage of green screen for scenes of driving, flying, window vistas, etc, and it’s usually really obvious when it’s been used, because the the matting is terrible. I’m talking visible “fuzz” around the actors where the background hasn’t been quite eliminated, the background not matching the camera movement properly, or even green light reflecting onto the actors (humourously, during one of these scenes, Nicolae asks Fitzhugh what colour the sky is, and then says that he could see it as green for all we know, while green light is literally showing on his skin). World at War is also taking place in a lot more sets than its predecessors (who at least spent a good chunk of their runtimes seemingly filming at some guy’s house as a stand-in for Rayford’s or at a literal church). In World at War, the church has been driven underground, so all the church scenes are literally in a church basement (which is like 60% of the Tribulation Force’s entire screentime), while the rest of the movie alternates between the White House, Buck’s apartment, a military bunker, a warehouse, and Nicolae’s office… and I’m pretty certain that most of these are just being borrowed from other productions (the White House set at least was apparently reused from Murder at 1600). This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does lend the film a very tacky, low-budget, TV-movie quality.

However, easily the biggest fumble for World at War and the cheapest, most made-for-TV movie aspect of it all is that World War III occurs entirely off-screen. I’m not exaggerating either – we see some brief news snippets, see some background explosions, hear the sounds of distant fighting, and the camera shakes every once in a while to simulate a nearby explosion. We don’t even get a shot like what the film’s DVD cover promises with planes doing a bombing run! A decade ago I wrote about how low budget movies will often promise some really cool, ambitious idea in order to draw you in, and then not deliver, and World at War absolutely lives up to that shameful standard. They could maybe make an excuse like “Oh, we wanted to focus on the message, not on gratuitous violence!” and to that I say bullshit. This is goddamn Left Behind, the gratuitous violence and spectacular disasters is absolutely the draw. If you make a movie about World War III and then not show that war at all, then you have absolutely failed as a filmmaker.

This brings me to the second crippling flaw of World at War, and that is the awful script. This movie is basically a messy jumble of scenes stitched together that barely make sense you actually scrutinize what is happening. When I take edibles, I hyper-fixate on the structure of a story and the filmmaking decisions involved and become really easily confused if any of this is “off”. I’m thankful that I watched this movie sober, because if I watched it high, I probably would have had a mental breakdown, it’s that all over the place from scene to scene. I’ve got countless examples of this that I need to go through:

  • Fitzhugh was just told by his vice president that Nicolae’s planning on using biological weapons to attack America. It’s pretty heavily implied that Nicolae knew that he knew this, and had the vice president assassinated to shut him up. Nicolae then meets Fitzhugh to offer his condolences for his friend’s death, and proceeds to show him biological weapons he’s developing. This is an absolutely insane scene and it makes no sense when Fitzhugh later re-confirms this information and is shocked at the revelation.
  • Fitzhugh captures and interrogates Buck Williams, but the whole scene makes no actual sense under scrutiny. First of all, Buck is Nicolae’s personal media mouthpiece. Fitzhugh seems to know that Buck is secretly a Christian, so maybe he assumes that his snooping around won’t make its way back to Nicolae, but that still means he’s basically talking to a terrorist as far as the state’s concerned. Fitzhugh asks Buck if he knows about the chemical weapons, because Christians have been stockpiling vaccines (boy, that’s rich in 2024), to which Buck says that he doesn’t know, but that he imagines that Nicolae’s the one who will unleash them. Fitzhugh then lets Buck go. I’m going to say this over and over again here, but this is the actual, goddamn President doing this interrogation, and not some lackey, so there’s no plausible deniability, no layers of insulation, nothing. Buck Williams, a globally-respected reporter now knows direct, national security information because the President directly gave it to him for no real reason and then let him walk out of there alive.
  • Fitzhugh then meets Nicolae’s personal assistant (who, like his pilot and media representative, is yet another mole in his organization) and the pair decide to infiltrate a Global Community facility. Again, not secret service, not trusted soldiers, the goddamn President grabs a gun and goes Solid Snake on this facility. He even shoots a guard and then snaps another one’s neck! I get that they’re just trying to maximize the amount of Louis Gossett Jr. that they can get in this film, but my God, the idea of the goddamn President being put in harm’s way so directly and unnecessarily is completely insane.
  • Then, as soon as he gets confirmation that Nicolae has chemical weapons and the militias are planning on launching a surprise attack on him, Fitzhugh has the bright idea to call Buck Williams on a cell phone so he can tell him that he was right about Nicolae!!!! Again, HOLY SHIT, the unprompted and unnecessary intel leak for something of this magnitude to Nicolae’s personal reporter is unbelievably stupid.
  • Then, when they decide they need to assassinate Nicolae in order to win the war, they send Fitzhugh to do it. They know that there are moles in his organization, it’s not like Fitzhugh is the only one who can get close to him.
  • Then we get to the war itself and there’s so much dumb shit here. There’s bombs going off a few blocks from the Global Community HQ and Nicolae is just sitting up in his office building watching it all… rather than, y’know, heading back to New Babylon where it’s safe (this is entirely on the movie, by the way, in the book I believe he is orchestrating the attacks from his plane the entire time). Meanwhile, characters are walking all over the country like there isn’t a war going on outside – we’ve got Fitzhugh walking from Global Community HQ, to the militia’s bunker, the White House, back to GC HQ, like it’s nothing. And at the same time, we’ve got Buck walking to the White House to meet him. There is absolutely no danger presented by these considerably-long treks, no sign of exertion or anything. It’s just more proof that the whole World War is basically an after-thought.

It’s also worth noting that the Tribulation Force, the characters we’ve been following since the first movie, are relegated to the B-plot of this movie and have shockingly little to do here that matters. Basically, Buck warns Fitzhugh about the Nicolae, converts him to Christianity, and the other characters are at ground zero for the biological weapon attacks. They are sidelined so heavily that it makes most of their screen time feel unnecessary, and if they weren’t legacy characters, then they probably would have been cut out during script rewrites.

World at War annoyed me. For the first twenty or thirty minutes, it displayed some legitimate potential and I was thinking that this could end up being my favourite Left Behind movie. Unfortunately, it falls apart quickly, absolutely fails to deliver its promise of an apocalyptic World War III, and completely collapses as soon as you start thinking about what actually happened during the course of the movie. In spite of all that, I’m kind of sad that this is where the original series ended – as poor as these films are, it would have been nice to see them get through apocalypse and show us some of the more outlandish disasters. Say what you will, but Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye are spectacularly uncreative – if the Bible says something about demon locusts with horse-like bodies, a scorpion’s tail, men’s faces, and women’s hair, then you’d best believe they are making a literal army of locusts attack humanity. If the Bible says that there’s two hundred million horsemen riding on horses with lion’s heads that can shoot fire, have snake-head tails, and will kill 1/3 of the human population, then you’d better believe that they’re literally gonna have a bunch of demonic horsemen show up. For the record, this isn’t just them “taking the Bible literally as intended”, as it all stands in contrast to the equally-specific descriptions of the various Beasts who are popularly identified as the Antichrist and False Prophet. However, since these figures are associated with human individuals, suddenly it’s fine for them to be metaphorical descriptions. It’s shit like this that made me, as a child, realize that the apocalypse portrayed in these books is pure fiction. That said, setting aside that millions of people believe this will actually happen, this kind of Christian apocalypse is metal as fuck. That is why I wish we got a continuation of this series with this cast – Cloud Ten would no doubt manage to screw it up in execution, but I would have had a lot of respect for them if they had managed to bring this vision to life.


Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Left Behind (2014)!

Retrospective: Left Behind II – Tribulation Force (2002)

Welcome back to the Left Behind retrospective! In this entry we’ll be going over the second film in the franchise, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force. To everyone’s shock and surprise, I didn’t think that the original Left Behind was all that bad – sure, it was extremely cheap, and the source material is garbage, but the movie itself managed to mine the drama and excitement of its apocalyptic premise well enough. Could they keep this (relative) quality up going into the sequel? Read on to find out…

Okay, I had some nice things to say about the original movie’s poster, but this one’s just bad. Random, distant shot of Kirk Cameron looking moody? Really indistinct picture of Nicolae framed against flames? This poster communicates basically nothing about the movie and looks like a high school media arts project at best.


In spite of the poor theatrical run of Left Behind: The Movie, DVD sales were healthy, with over three million copies sold. This reception was strong enough for Cloud Ten to greenlight a sequel, in spite of potential issues which could arise due to their ongoing legal battle with Tim LaHaye. Cloud Ten insisted that the sequel would continue regardless, to which LaHaye stated: “Whether the second movie will happen or not will be settled by the court.”

Well, turns out that Cloud Ten and Namesake pictures got the last laugh, because the courts dismissed LaHaye’s case. He would go on to appeal, but we’ll cover the results of that in later entries… For now, Tribulation Force was a go.

The second Left Behind film would be based on the second book, Tribulation Force, which continues to follow the characters from the previous book in the aftermath of the Rapture, leading into the beginning of the Tribulation. Perhaps due to budget, the movie would not include the most exciting (and expensive) part of the book – World War III, where Nicolae goes to war with all the nations that haven’t submitted entirely to him. Instead, Tribulation Force would cover the time period leading up to those events and the next movie would be dedicated entirely to WWIII.

This brings us to a character who, despite playing a very small part in the making of the film, influenced it in a way that can be felt strongly: pastor and evangelist Ray Comfort, a man so easy to make fun of that even Wikipedia pulled off a Fatality on him. You know those fake $100 bills you come across which end up having a Bible tract on the back? This guy is the sonofabitch responsible for those things. He also really hates evolution, having written a book called You Can Lead an Atheist to Evidence, But You Can’t Make Him Think and an abridged (and suspiciously-edited) version of “On the Origin of Species”. During my research into this movie I found that he had written a book about the making of the film, which I attempted to track down. If you followed my Twitter account in the last few weeks, you would know that this did not go well. I did eventually get the book though and read through it…

According to Miracle in the Making, Kirk Cameron had met Ray Comfort in the 90s, and instantly found his teachings to be captivating. The pair would become close friends and collaborators, and would eventually go into ministry together. During the production of Tribulation Force, Kirk confided to Ray that he and Chelsea were considering dropping out of the movie. Two weeks out from the start of shooting, the script had not been finalized, contracts had not been signed, and they didn’t even know who else was going to be in the movie at that point. However, Ray convinced him to stay on in order to champion the film’s message. Together, he and Kirk rewrote the script to include a stronger evangelistic message and, after pitching the changes to Cloud Ten, the producers agreed to incorporate them.

…that’s about all we learn from Ray Comfort about the making of the movie. Forgive me for going on a tangent away from Tribulation Force, but I need to indulge for a bit: Miracle in the Making is 100 pages long, about maybe 15 pages of which have anything to do with Tribulation Force. The rest is a meandering gaggle of Ray preaching about his doctrine (basically, keeping the Ten Commandments is the most important element of salvation), telling parables about two guys wearing parachutes on an airplane, telling stories about getting told to fuck off by Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron, debating atheists, hanging out with celebrities, and harassing restaurant-goers (and others besides) with Bible tracts. It’s also got some jaw-dropping moments, like Ray Comfort and Tim LaHaye joking about their chances of being accused of sexual harassment. He also tells a story about how he was on notice for jury duty on a case where a truck driver had been carrying unsecured boxes, which came off the truck and caused an accident with back and neck injuries. Ray bragged that he got off jury duty because he declared that he found the idea of making someone pay for an accident abhorrent and that he “wouldn’t give the guy a bean”… DUDE, assuming that the injury is indeed legitimate (which is the job of the trial to determine in any case), that guy is gonna be dealing with medical bills for life, which he’s not going to be able to afford with America’s shitty healthcare system, and this “accident” is directly due to the driver’s negligence. This is a textbook case of why suing people is so common in the States and why the system even exists in the first place.

Maybe the biggest shock though was how Ray Comfort describes how Kirk Cameron first became enamored with his preaching. Cameron describes how “I believe I was robbed of the deep pain of seeing the depth of my sinfulness, of experiencing the exceeding joy and gratitude that comes from the cross, because I was convinced of God’s love before I was convinced of my sin. […] I had never opened up the Ten Commandments and looked deep into the well of my sinful heart. I never imagined that God was actually angry with me at a certain point because of my sin.” THAT is emblematic of Comfort’s doctrine – Jesus may love you, but God hates your sin more and if you don’t do something about that then you were never “really” a Christian to begin with. Take his argument against the idea that the church is full of self-righteous hypocrites: “There are no hypocrites in the Church. Hypocrites are pretenders, masquerading as genuine Christians. God sees the pretenders and He sees the genuine, and warns that they will be sorted out on Judgement Day”. Keep all this in mind as we go into the film whose script he helped influence…

Is… is Ray Comfort responsible for making Kirk Cameron into Kirk Cameron, the guy we all know and hate now…?

Anyway, back to Tribulation Force… As I stated earlier, Kirk Cameron and Chelsea Noble both returned to reprise their roles, as did many of the cast from the original film – not just the main cast either, like Brad Johnson, Clarence Gilyard Jr, Janaya Stephens and Gordon Currie, but also smaller roles like David Macniven (who played Rayford’s co-pilot, Chris), Krista Bridges (who played Buck’s assistant, Ivy Gold), and Christie MacFadyen (who played Rayford’s Raptured wife). It’s honestly extremely impressive that they were able to get everyone together, especially considering that most of the cast wasn’t secured until the last minute.

Directing duties would go to Bill Corcoran, a long-time, workman Canadian filmmaker. Like the original, filming occurred in and around Toronto, including the scenes in Israel (I didn’t see any camels this time though, sadly). Normally I wouldn’t mention anything about the editing, but I got extremely excited when I saw that Michael Doherty edited this movie. The Michael Doherty of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus fame!? I was excited about this for days, but literally as I am writing this I realized that Michael Doherty is (sadly) not Michael Dougherty. Dude still edited the latter-date Romero zombie movies and several episodes of Hannibal, so that’s cool, but significantly less exciting than I had thought…

The budget of this film is estimated to have been around $3.8 million, significantly less than the original’s reported $17.4 million, although if the estimated budget for Left Behind of $4 million was accurate, then this actually wasn’t that much of a drop. Unlike the first film, Tribulation Force skipped a theatrical release entirely, only going straight-to-DVD, with some churches choosing to screen it privately.

Plot Synopsis

Tribulation Force opens with Nicolae working on establishing the UN as a one-world government, as he consolidates the major currencies into a single global currency and begins taking steps towards founding a one-world religion. He is impressed by Buck’s reporting and requests a meeting with the reporter, who is uneasy about doing so after having just witnessed him murder Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in the previous film. Buck, Rayford, Chloe, and Bruce debate about what they should do now that they know that Nicolae is the Antichrist. They hear rumours about three men burning to death at the Wailing Wall in Israel and Bruce believes that this is the doing of the “two witnesses” who are prophesied to lead thousands to Christ during the end times. However, the area has been placed off-limits and their message is being suppressed. After much deliberation, Rayford and Buck decide to get closer to Nicolae to leverage their positions to fight back against him – Buck will attempt to get the message of the witnesses out, while Rayford will become Nicolae’s pilot in order to spy on him.

During their meeting, Nicolae agrees to give Buck full UN security clearance in exchange for becoming his personal voice in the media. Meanwhile, Rayford leverages his connections with Hattie in order to get the job as Nicolae’s personal pilot. While all this is happening, Chloe grows increasingly concerned about the safety of her father and Buck, while also getting jealous and throwing a fit for a while because she mistakenly believes that Buck is cheating on her. This is because his assistant, Ivy Gold, is staying at his apartment, since she has nowhere else to stay due to the post-Rapture chaos (women, amiright?). The couple manage to make amends before Buck and Rayford travel to Israel for a press conference, where a leading religious scholar, Tsion Ben-Judah, is due to make an announcement about the identity of the Jewish Messiah.

During the flight over, Rayford discovers that Ben-Judah’s announcement will be that Nicolae is the Messiah. They decide to intercept him and try to get him to speak with the witnesses, who will be able to convince him through God’s word that Jesus is the real Messiah. Buck manages to convince Ben-Judah to confront the witnesses with the ruse of performing an interview to discredit them. Ben-Judah accepts and the pair confront the witnesses on the temple mount. The witnesses say some Bible verses, and then they shoot flames out of their mouths to burn a couple soldiers to death. Buck is distressed to discover that the UN cut off his broadcast before the witnesses could say anything, but he hopes that Ben-Judah heard enough to change his coming speech.

The next day, Ben-Judah makes his proclamation on international broadcast that the Messiah could only have been Jesus. Nicolae is enraged and tries to stop the broadcast, but Rayford sabotages his ability to do so, and the proclamation goes off unhindered. The film ends with the Tribulation Force gathering to celebrate this victory against the Antichrist as Nicolae swears vengeance against God…


When I originally saw Left Behind: The Movie as a kid, I recall that I thought it wasn’t bad. I was surprised to find that I agreed with this watching it again 20+ years later. As a kid, I thought that Left Behind II: Tribulation Force SUCKED, and I am completely unsurprised to find that this has also held true. This isn’t a shock at all – the book, Tribulation Force, also sucked. Even as a kid, I found it incredibly dull, to the point where I got fed up, and skipped over like fifty pages of it just to get to the World War III section… which isn’t even in this movie, so that should give you an idea of how much this film is scraping the barrel for anything of interest. While I understand that cutting out a massive war was probably done for budget reasons, it’s kind of insane – each Left Behind book almost entirely revolves around some massive disaster or dramatic event that defines that entry: Nicolae is the earthquake book, Apollyon is the demon locust book, Assassins is the insane Nicolae murder conspiracy book, etc. The decision to excise the novel’s climax has massive repercussions on the movie, because everything that remains is so FUCKING DULL.

I’ll get the nice stuff out of the way first. The cast were easily one of the best parts of the first movie and it’s nice to see them get to reprise their roles. They still do a decent job, especially Brad Johnson (who portrays Ray as putting up a manly-man façade, but is clearly still traumatized over losing his wife and son) and Gordon Currie (who’s hamming it up more than ever), although they are really let down by the much weaker script. That said, putting aside the issues caused by removing the big climax from the book, Tribulation Force actually improves on its source material in some areas. In the book, Tsion Ben-Judah comes to the conclusion that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah on his own and, for some reason, the world is interested enough that this announcement becomes international, live broadcast news. However, the movie changes this so that the whole announcement and broadcast is orchestrated propaganda – it’s heavily implied that Ben-Judah has been intercepted by Nicolae and brainwashed into believing that he is the Messiah, all as part of Nicolae’s plan to establish his one-world religion. Thus, it becomes up to our heroes to save the day and spread the truth. This ends up being orders of magnitude more tense and interesting than what was put to page.

I also appreciate that this film seems to have more compassion for its characters than the source material. In the first book, Chris (Rayford’s co-pilot) commits suicide off-screen immediately after discovering that his entire family were Raptured. In Tribulation Force, there is an extended sequence dedicated to saving Chris – not just from suicide, but converting him so he can be with his family again someday. On the one hand, his fate in the books really underscores the devastating magnitude of the Rapture and the effects it can (and would) have on those left behind. However, step back a bit, and this is basically Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye conceptualizing a character and then condemning him to an eternity of torment while his family who love him are separated from him forever… and all this is justified because, according to their doctrine, he deserves it. Just thinking about it reminds me why, if God is truly all-loving, then universal reconciliation surely must be true doctrine, because the alternative reflects very poorly on Him and makes salvation an existential horror. Meanwhile, giving Chris the opportunity to be saved is far more in keeping with the sort of fate a Christian should want for a character and I’m kind of glad that he gets his little redemption arc in this adaptation.

Wait a minute… there’s no shadows being cast by the witnesses from the flamethrower attack.

And… uh… that’s about all the good I have to say about this movie. Everything that was a problem in the previous movie is still here: poor lighting, cheap sets, unconvincing special effects, etc. However, everything feels so much worse. If Left Behind: The Movie was, as Tim LaHaye put it, a glorified church basement movie, Tribulation Force is very much a church basement movie. The first movie at least had a pretty ambitious opening scene with lots of practical explosions and a real car bombing later, this movie has… a very brief fire stunt and that’s it. You’ve got alleyway sets where they’ve thrown trash all over the place to represent the post-Rapture lawlessness. We’ve got UN soldiers and Israeli army in what are clearly WWII-era army surplus uniforms. The Israel restaurant set looks like it was a reused Arabic bazaar. Nicolae’s plane changes models three different times depending on what location or stock footage the scene is using. Tribulation Force is operating on a much smaller scale than the previous film and when it tries to widen that scope beyond “American house/church” you can reeeeally feel how small this film’s budget was.

The direction of the film is also notably worse. This is perhaps best demonstrated recalling the scene of Nicolae murdering Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in the first movie, and then comparing it to the scene of Buck meeting Nicolae in Tribulation Force. The first movie nailed the execution of that scene, creating a very tense sequence which effectively demonstrates the character and otherworldly menace of Nicolae, visually demonstrates that Buck is immune to his charms, and communicates that he’s terrified that Nicolae might realize this. Conceptually, the rooftop meeting could manage to be comparable: Buck is voluntarily putting himself within reach of his sworn enemy, who may or may not know his secret. Plus, visually, the scene is evocative of the temptation of Christ, which seems relevant since Buck is literally making a deal with the Devil. However, in execution, this scene really fails. There’s nothing sinister about the meeting, no tension at all in the way that it’s filmed. Any tension to be had is wrought out of the dialogue, but it is utterly neutered by unimaginative direction. The fact that the meeting is occurring on a rooftop even seems to be completely irrelevant – they might as well be meeting in the street, or a café for all it’s worth. Not even a camera movement to suggest “Oh my God, is he going to throw me off the roof?” Hell, you could have an awesome character moment for Buck if he just thinks “I could push the Antichrist off this roof right now”… and all it would take is someone deciding to shoot anything other than two angles of medium close ups.

However, all of this pales in comparison to the actual problem with this movie, and that is unquestionably the script. As I’ve already said several times, cutting out the novel’s climax has huge repercussions on the movie. The entire climax has been excised and they have to compensate by spinning a lot of wheels in order to get Tribulation Force barely over a 90 minute runtime. This results in some excruciating scenes as the film grinds its pacing to a halt and wastes as much time as humanly possible. Nearly the first ten minutes of the film are just people watching TV: Nicolae watching Buck reporting the news. Bruce watching Nicolae at the UN. Buck watching the same broadcast, but from an entirely different location. Barely any of this serves anything but to dump some exposition about the state of the world and to establish why Nicolae wants to turn Buck into an ally (although given their relationship in the previous film, this probably wouldn’t even be necessary). It’s also really awkward to have the scenes constantly get inter-cut with footage of Bruce, who doesn’t react or say a damn thing the entire time, and won’t even get a line for about another five minutes. It’s like they need to remind us that he exists because he barely got to do anything in the last movie.

The absolute worst part though is the awful, awful, AWFUL attempt at romantic drama which dominates a putrid, nearly fifteen minute chunk of this film. Chloe and Buck have become an item between the end of the last film and the start of this one and Chloe wants to make things more serious with him. However, through a set of extremely contrived circumstances, she goes to his apartment and finds Ivy Gold staying there, who flashes her engagement ring and tells her to piss off. Chloe then gets pissed off at Buck, refuses to talk to him, and acts like a child, all while Ray tells her that she’s acting like an idiot. When it’s finally revealed that she’s misunderstood the whole situation, it comes across like the film’s just dropped a bucket of shit on her, because she obviously should have trusted Buck all along. How awful it is that she would not assume he was innocent! This whole storyline adds nothing to the overarching plot, is nothing but absolute bottom-barrel romantic comedy tropes, and serves nothing but to pad out the runtime.

Really, the film is just constantly shitting on Chloe during the first half – when Rayford takes down photos of his wife and son, Chloe comes across like she’s whining when she makes some very reasonable points. When Rayford and Buck decide to put themselves in harm’s way for the cause, she whines and sulks about it. She’s just such a wet blanket that it nearly gave me whiplash when, in the second half, they turn around and let her be competent at serving in the church’s makeshift hospital and she even becomes friends with Ivy Gold. Adding it all up, it just clearly shows where Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ opinions on women in the church lie: while the men are off doing big, “important things” throughout the movie, Chloe (when she’s not being an emotional burden on them) is stuck comforting the dying and getting over jealousy. She’s clearly side-lined and “lesser”, and it’s an issue which sticks with her through the entire book series (well, until her untimely demise, anyway).

On top of all this, the writing also just happens to be really stupid at times. Like, the film opens with Nicolae seeing Buck on TV and going “Wow, he’s so cool, I want him on my team!” Buck has literally just been providing a basic overview of what has happened in society since the Rapture happened. There’s nothing notable or exceptional about it or Buck’s reporting, but it gets treated like he’s an eloquent, hard-truth-speaking genius. Or how about how Rayford refuses to become Nicolae’s private pilot because it would be dangerous and then Bruce berates him for being selfish, but literally one scene later Buck says he’s going to get access to the two witnesses to spread their gospel and Bruce says “I dunno Buck, that’s dangerous, you sure?” You could miss the inconsistency entirely if they weren’t literally back-to-back scenes, but as is, it makes it seem like Bruce just really hates Ray and wants him to go get himself killed. Or how about when Nicolae is told to arrest the witnesses, he says “I do not want to put them in jail, this is not a dictatorship.” DUDE! They lit three people on fire, arrest them all you want, no one is going to complain! Or how about how Tsion Ben-Judah becomes convinced that Jesus is the real Messiah because the two witnesses literally just quote some Bible verses to him. I need to explain why this is so insane: Tsion Ben-Judah is apparently the world’s greatest religious scholar. Are you telling me he hasn’t even read the Bible or spoken with Christians before in his studies? He doesn’t even argue with the witnesses, the thing he is supposed to be meeting with them to do in the first place! Man, I sure am glad that they axed the WWIII climax in favour of this one!

In regards to the writing, one way that Tribulation Force really differentiates itself from its predecessor is by being an exponentially-preachier film. If you weren’t a Christian already, you could probably get through Left Behind: The Movie without feeling like you were being outright preached to the whole time – it feels like a narrative moreso than a sermon. In comparison, Tribulation Force spends far more time unabashedly focused on preaching to its audience. Your taste for this change will vary significantly – I’ve always been of the opinion that these movies are almost entirely made by evangelicals, for evangelicals, and so any preaching is literally being done to the choir. It’s less about changing hearts and minds, and more about pandering and reinforcing the audience’s existing beliefs. I would not say that this is necessarily a bad thing in itself; rather, that the execution is poor…

What is this, some kind of Tribulation Force?

…which, finally, brings us to good ol’ Ray Comfort’s contributions to the film. He and Kirk Cameron wanted to make this film more “evangelistic”, and boy did they take a sledge-hammer to the script (despite Ray Comfort literally saying in his book that movies that preach to the audience suck). The most blatant example of this is when Rayford is trying to convince Chris to submit to Jesus. The arguments that Rayford uses to convince Chris that Jesus is real are straight out of Ray Comfort’s mouth… and they kinda suck. Rayford has two big points he pushes to try to convince Chris not to kill himself:

  1. You’re not a good person, because if you ever committed a single sin in your life, then you’re tainted in God’s eyes. Also, the parameters of potential slip-ups are way broader than you would think, so God’s extra unfair to you (eg, if you covet then you’re a thief in God’s eyes, if you get angry then you’re a murderer, if you look lustfully then you’re having pre-marital sex, etc). Therefore you need to submit to God, or you’re gonna roast in Hell.
  2. Gun to head, all else has failed, what can Ray possibly say to convince Chris not to do it? “Hey, maybe there’s a God, or maybe there isn’t! If there isn’t, then we both end up the same. If there is, then you go to heaven if you listen to me, or hell if you don’t! Which would you prefer?” I need to iterate that THIS IS THE ARGUMENT THAT CONVINCES HIM TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN!!!

Having spent a couple years in university associated with Campus4Christ, I can attest that these sorts of crap evangelism tactics don’t really hold up to any sort of scrutiny. Like, “if you get angry, you’re a murderer in God’s eyes”. Umm, no, that’s kind of an insane difference, God. Where is the justice in the idea that God is just waiting for us to slip up even a tiny bit, just so He can punish us to the full extent? All that Ray has really done is use the movie to push his own, very narrow view of faith, and weigh down the script with poorly considered arguments that aren’t convincing to anyone outside of the target audience. Honestly, a bit of reframing could do wonders – “Umm, ackshully, the rules say that you’re a thief, murderer, and an adulterer!” is extremely unconvincing, but change that to “You may not be as bad as a full-on murderer, but in comparison to the perfection of God, you are just as much of a sinner”. There’s an actual argument here, one that actually meets them where they are and doesn’t hinge on them accepting that God views them as the most extreme kinds of sinner.

Overall, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about Tribulation Force (I say, approximately 4000+ words deep in this retrospective). It’s a movie whose greatest struggle is simply in finding ways to waste time until anything of importance has to happen. The result, predictably, is a dull and slow slog with no satisfying payoff. There is precious little plot here and it is surrounded by long stretches of wheel spinning. The movie is barely 90 minutes long and you can feel how they padded the runtime significantly to get it to “proper” movie length. Considering that approximately ten of those minutes are directly dedicated to the infuriating “romantic misunderstanding” storyline, I can pretty much guarantee that an arbitrary runtime was the entire reason the pacing is so bad in this movie. With some more judicious editing, this could easily have been a far better film at 70 minutes (or even 60)… but then they’d have to find some other way to end this story. A shame, if only there was some other ending that they could have used instead…


Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Left Behind III: World at War!

Retrospective: Left Behind – The Movie (2000)

It’s been quite a while since my last retrospectives series (more than 3 years now), but that’s largely because of the sheer amount of work that goes into these things. Not only do I have to make time between work, family, and other hobbies to be able to watch 3+ movies, I also have to do research into the the production history of the franchise, and actually write out the reviews for each movie… I’m not complaining, I really enjoy doing this stuff, but I also get paid jack shit for it so it takes a lot for me to get the motivation to put one of these out (it’s also why I’ve largely pivoted to the less labour intensive Love/Hate format for most media franchise overviews these days).

Anyway, all that said, I want to make it clear that I’m fucking excited for this look at the Left Behind franchise. Growing up evangelical, I was really into the book series… because fuckloads of people die in it. I’m not even kidding, that was the entire appeal for little edgelord me at 10 years old (the massive disasters and demons running rampant were also super cool). It simultaneously managed to get me into end-times theology, and also eventually made me realize that the whole industry that built up around it was a grift. Despite having a massive grudge against this franchise and the poison it has been for Christianity as a whole, I’m going to give each film a fair shake and recount the batshit insanity that went on behind the scenes with each new film. So let’s start at the beginning, with Left Behind: The Movie, which I actually thought was pretty decent when I was a kid. Does it hold up still, now that I’m a jaded, crusty old bastard? Read on to find out…

Boy… that sure is a late 90s-era evangelical movie poster. Definitely not good, but could be worse. I also kinda like that whoever designed it at least understood colour theory and made sure to make this poster orange and blue, it gives it some visual unity and appeal, even though the poster is entirely made up of random images. Oh, and it probably doesn’t bear mentioning, but they REALLY upped the brightness on ol’ Kirk here and it doesn’t look very good.


If there is one man most responsible for Left Behind, it is Tim LaHaye (take of that statement what you will). LaHaye was a pastor in the mid-1950s before becoming an instrumental force in the conservative evangelical movement in America in the 70s and 80s. He, along with Jerry Falwell, were instrumental in establishing and directing the Moral Majority, the movement which caused Ronald Reagan to be elected to office and, among other things, created the cultural environment that would allow the Satanic Panic to occur.

Basically, this motherfucker is the reason why America is so fucked up today.

Anyway, LaHaye was on a flight in 1994 and witnessed the pilot (who, apparently, was married) flirting with a flight attendant, which caused him to begin imagining how he would react if The Rapture occurred at that very moment. He quickly teamed up with Christian writer, Jerry B. Jenkins, and the pair conceptualized Left Behind, which would follow a large cast of characters trying to survive and save as many people as possible during the final seven years of Earth in the evangelical Christian apocalypse. The pair drew heavy inspiration from A Thief in the Night, a series of apocalyptic thriller films released in the 70s and 80s, which also portray a post-Rapture world. By all accounts, LaHaye provided his ideas and theology for the structure of the story, while Jenkins did all the actual writing. Notably, LaHaye’s influence can also be felt in some of the more… interesting decisions in the book. Notably, a lot of the first book’s plot is driven by shadowy “international bankers” influencing the UN, which has way more power than it does in real life… then you realize that Tim LaHaye is obsessed with the Illuminati, and this just reflects what he thinks is actually going on in the world. Similarly, LaHaye believes that Catholics are a bunch of heretics, so most Catholics are not Raptured. Oh, and as an extra “fuck you” to Catholics, the Pope gets Raptured… because he dropped his Catholic beliefs and adopted evangelical doctrine. And then, later in the series, the new pope abolishes Catholicism for a new one-world religion and, when he dies, his memorial is cancelled because no one gives a fuck about him, ouch.

Left Behind was released in 1995, and would be a run-away success, with selling millions of copies, and reigniting an evangelical obsession with eschatology as the new millennium drew nearer. A new book would follow every year (some years, 2 new books!), for a grand total of 16 main series entries by 2007, plus countless spin-offs and merchandise, not to mention a cottage industry of prophecy-based media which polluted Christian bookstores for decades.

As early as 1997, Jenkins and LaHaye began shopping the series around to movie studios interested in adapting the books to the screen. Namesake Entertainment optioned the rights from LaHaye and Jenkins, promising that they would be able to make it into a big-budget blockbuster series. Namesake seemed like a good fit for LaHaye and Jenkins, because they specialized in adapting Christian thrillers for screen. With Ralph Winter on-board to produce (known for X-Men, Fantastic Four, and… that Planet of the Apes movie), things were looking promising for Left Behind (even if its script was being written by Alan B. McElroy, the guy who wrote Halloween 4, Spawn, and the goddamn Tekken movie). Unfortunately for all involved, Namesake were unable to find a studio interested in financing the movie, so they licensed the rights to Peter & Paul Lalonde at Cloud Ten Pictures, a Canadian production studio making end-times films for the evangelical market. At this time, they had already made a micro-budget trilogy called Apocalypse (whose entries feature goddamn Mr. T, Gary Busey, Jeff Fahey, Margot Kidder, and Howie Mandell, what the actual fuck!?), so apparently they were the best people for the job. Despite being prominently credited on the film (and its sequel), Ralph Winter and McElroy didn’t have any actual role in the production, and it’s believed that their names were included because it granted the film more legitimacy.

Y’know who didn’t want their names on the film? Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. They had sold the movie rights on the promise of getting a $40 million Hollywood blockbuster that could compete with the secular market. Instead, they got a film directly marketed to the Christian community with a reported budget of $17.4 million (which, according to the producers, made the film the most ambitious Christian movie of all time), although LaHaye stated on-record that “representations about the size of the budget were not true”. It seems that this was especially contentious for LaHaye and Jenkins because they had, for whatever reason, sold the exclusive film rights to their entire franchise to Namesake in their original deal – not just the books which had been written at that point, but also future novels, and the Left Behind: The Kids young adult series, which they seemed particularly keen to reclaim the rights to. LaHaye and Jenkins had planned on making their own adaptation of Left Behind: The Kids, which was unable to proceed due to the rights agreement.

In July of 1999, before the movie even came out, LaHaye sued Cloud Ten for breach of contract, claiming $10 million in damages. He offered to drop the suit if Cloud Ten and Namesake relinquished their rights to Left Behind: The Kids and gave up their rights to any further Left Behind books. This was not going to happen though because Namesake were developing their own television series based on Left Behind: The Kids (which never came to fruition, probably due to this lawsuit) and, despite offering revenue sharing to the authours, LaHaye would not budge. This lawsuit would drag on for several more years (and movies), which we’ll cover further in their own entries…

Meanwhile, development of Left Behind: The Movie proceeded in spite of all the drama surrounding it. Vic Sarin, a Canadian, long-time, workman director and cinematographer was brought on to direct the film. Of the principle cast, the highest-profile cast member was Kirk Cameron, who was known for being on Growing Pains and then converting to evangelical Christianity and going off the deep end. He, along with wife Chelsea Noble, were very much true-believers, and actively sought to become involved in the films after reading the books. Cameron was cast as co-lead Buck Williams, a high-profile journalist, while Noble was cast as The Whore of Babylon. The other co-lead role went to manly-man Brad Johnson, who played Rayford Steele. The role of Nicolae Carpathia went to Gordon Currie, who had a small role in Jason Takes Manhattan (he’s the poor son of a bitch who gets chucked off the mast and gets impaled on the radio antenna). Rounding out the main cast were Janaya Stephens as Rayford’s daughter, Chloe Steele, and Clarence Gilyard Jr as Bruce Barnes. Fun fact, the role of Chloe Steele was originally going to go to Hallmark movie queen, Lacey Chabert, in what would have been one of her first film roles, but she ended up dropping out due to scheduling conflicts.

Filming took place in and around Toronto in May of 2000 and lasted for 31 days. For the opening sequence of the film, which takes place in Israel, the production used a quarry and made some camels walk around in the background to make it look like the Middle East. I mainly mention this because literally my first note when I was watching the movie was that the camels were extremely conspicuous and that “Israel” looked like a quarry, so it was hilarious when I found out that these observations were indeed correct.

Left Behind: The Movie would take an unconventional release strategy. It originally was released straight to DVD in 2000, with a theatrical release following in February of 2001. Its theatrical run was not particularly great, grossing only $4,224,065.

Plot Synopsis

The film opens in Israel, where GNN television reporter Buck Williams is interviewing scientist Chaim Rosenzweig, who has developed “Eden”, a formula which can allow food to grow in desert environments. This formula has poised Israel to become a global leader as they hold the key to solving a growing food scarcity crisis. However, the interview is cut short as Arab and Russian jets launch a surprise attack on Israel. The pair flee into a bunker and watch the unfolding attack. However, the attacking forces begin spontaneously exploding before Israel can scramble a response, which causes Buck to run outside to document and report on the miraculous happenings. Within moments, the entire raid is thwarted and Israel is saved by mysterious forces.

We then follow airline pilot Rayford Steele, who bails on his son’s birthday party in order to take over a flight from New York City to London, much to the distaste of his daughter, Chloe. Aboard this flight is Buck, who is looking into the attack on Israel after being tipped off by a contact of his, and Hattie Durham, a flight attendant who Rayford is having an affair with. However, she reveals to Ray that this is her last flight, she will be taking a job with the UN, in part because she feels like he has just been leading her on.

While over the Atlantic, passengers begin to realize that several people aboard have disappeared, including all of the children. Bruce, Hattie, and Buck struggle to maintain order aboard, while Rayford diverts the flight back to New York. They soon discover that these disappearances are a global phenomenon and that hundreds of millions of people have vanished without warning, causing several deaths due to vehicles having their operators disappear, amongst other things. The flight ends up diverting to Chicago. Rayford is thankful for Buck’s help during the flight and Buck convinces Rayford to link him up with a private pilot who can get him to New York City. He stays at Rayford’s home for the night.

Rayford returns home to discover that his wife and son are gone. He realizes that his wife, who he had resented for converting to Christianity, was right all along. Meanwhile, Chloe returns home, having had her vehicle stolen while trying to head to college for her exams, before being unable to continue due to all the wrecked vehicles littering the roads. Chloe takes Buck to the airport, where he links up with Ray’s contact, pilot Ken Ritz, who agrees to take him to New York. When he arrives there, he finds that his contact, Dirk Burton, has been killed for knowing too much. Buck gets his confidential files and then flees when a sniper tries to kill him as well. He discovers a plan orchestrated by international bankers, Jonathan Stonagal and Joshua Todd-Cothran, who intend to use their protégé, UN Secretary General Nicolae Carpathia, to entice Chaim Rosenzweig to hand over the Eden formula to the UN in exchange for plans to reconstruct the Jewish temple. They will then bankrupt the UN and control the world’s food supply, netting themselves untold billions in the process.

Rayford travels to new Hope Village Church and discovers that its pastor, Bruce Barnes, has been left behind. He had preached for years, but never really believed until now. The pair set about preparing for the coming tribulations.

Meanwhile, Buck returns to Chicago and meets with CIA agent Alan Thompkins to try to get information about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran’s plans. However, Thompkins is killed in a car bombing and Buck flees to Rayford’s home once again. They take Buck to New Hope Village Church in order to utilize the medical services running out of the building. Rayford and Bruce show Buck a tape that the former lead pastor had made, which predicted the disappearances, the rebuilding of the temple and the rise of the Antichrist. Buck doesn’t believe them, and leaves to go to the UN to warn Chaim about Stonagal and Todd-Cothran’s plans.

When he arrives, he soon finds that every prediction that he had been told by Rayford and Bruce were true and converts to Christianity in order to protect himself against the Antichrist’s machinations. Nicolae calls a private meeting, where he reveals his plans to consolidate power and then executes Stonagal and Todd-Cothran, before using mind-control to cause everyone (except Buck) to believe that they committed murder-suicide. Buck returns back to his new friends and they all agree to band together to fight the coming evils…


So, this might be a hot take, but here goes: Left Behind: The Movie isn’t all that bad. No, I’m not kidding. I remembered thinking the movie was decent when I saw it more than 20 years ago, but my opinions on eschatology and movies have changed since then, so I was expecting to like it a whole lot less. While I definitely have my issues with it, my estimation of it hasn’t dropped that far compared to where it was. It also probably helps that I’ve made a hobby out of seeking out and writing my thoughts on shit movies, so in comparison Left Behind: The Movie doesn’t even come close.

Now, a caveat to this – if you have no interest in religion, then Left Behind will probably not do anything for you. Similarly, if you can’t set aside a distaste for the creators’ theology, then it’ll also sour your experience. If you can lay that aside though and just go with it, Left Behind: The Movie is an alright thriller, buoyed significantly by its strong premise.

I’ll keep the positives going with probably the strongest aspect of Left Behind: The Movie – its cast. Christian movies, especially in this era, were known for having amateur-level acting, but Left Behind‘s cast are fairly solid across the board (even Kirk Cameron, although he and Chelsea Noble put in the weakest performances of the main cast, in my opinion). Easily the two standouts are Brad Johnson as Rayford Steele and Gordon Currie as Nicolae Carpathia. Johnson is a consummate professional, effortlessly taking Rayford from seething and resentful of his wife, to controlling and in-charge as a pilot, to desperate and downtrodden when he discovers his family has disappeared, to truly convicted in his beliefs when he converts. The only problem is that his arc ends too early and he spends the last forty minutes of the film with nothing to do but preach at the audience (I found a contemporary review by a Christian who saw the movie who agreed that Rayford was the best character, but opined “he comes off as a Bible-thumping turnoff after he’s saved, and delivers the usual ‘there’s something bigger than all of this’ kind of talk”).

Meanwhile, Gordon Currie gets to chew the scenery as Nicolae Carpathia, going from seemingly-good natured, to slimy and sinister on a dime. The reveal that he’s the Antichrist is extremely obvious from the moment he appears in the film, but when they do reveal it, it’s really effective scene where Currie absolutely commands the room. Hearing him say “Don’t worry, this will be completely painless. After all, I’m not a monster” and then chuckling to himself is downright chilling. This might be another hot-take, but I feel like Currie’s Nicolae is, low-key, an all-timer villain. That might sound crazy considering that I’m talking about a series of micro-budget Christian films, but these novels and movies have a hold in the imaginations of the evangelical market. There are millions of people whose conception of an Antichrist figure is exactly what Currie portrays: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a leader who preaches peace, but who has sinister intentions. This portrayal is so ingrained in their thoughts that, when a figure who arguably fits the theology of who an anti-Christ figure is better, they enthusiastically vote for that guy three times.

The other main strength of Left Behind: The Movie is its overall premise and plot. It also has to be said that the movie is a whole lot better than the novel it’s based on. Where the novel can be meandering and poorly written, the movie tightens everything up into a (mostly) well-paced thriller. While the Rapture itself is a compelling enough event to mine a lot of drama, it’s over fairly quickly and the film needs more events to keep you watching. Think about it a bit: if this movie was just about The Rapture, then the natural progression for acts 2 and 3 would be a massive amount of preaching to the audience. The main reason the film is able to sustain interest after the Rapture is its B-plot, which features Buck Williams uncovering the conspiracy to take control of the world’s food supply, which eventually results in the rise of the Antichrist. While nothing particularly special or unique goes on in this B-plot that you haven’t seen in any other conspiracy narrative, this storyline stays interesting with a cavalcade of assassinations, clues, and near-misses, keeping it constantly moving forward and engaging (dare I even say “exciting”?). It all culminates in probably the best scene of the movie, where Nicolae is revealed to be The Antichrist and Buck realizes he’s trapped in the same room as him. It’s a really tense scene, with Nicolae dispatching Stonagal and Todd-Cothran in cold blood and then using his mind control super powers to tell everyone assembled what he’d like them to believe (except, Buck, who is protected by the power of God). It effectively hypes up the real danger Nicolae presents going forward and gets you properly interested to see how the characters will deal with him in future… until you read the books and find out he’s constantly getting clowned on, because they can’t just let their symbol of ultimate evil ever win.

That said, there’s one glaring issue with this film’s narrative structure and pacing, and that’s how Rayford’s arc is handled. If Buck’s journey is the B-plot, Rayford’s storyline is very much the A-plot for most of the film as he deals with the fallout of the Rapture and then tries to cope with the disappearance of his wife and son. However, after about an hour he realizes they were right, converts to Christianity, and then becomes a die-hard believer from that point onward… with about 40 minutes left to go in the movie. Like, the movie cuts back to him every once in a while, but there isn’t much for him to do, other than preach at Buck, Chloe, and the audience. I can’t help but feel that the movie would have been stronger overall if Rayford spent more time struggling, or maybe went through a period of anger at God for taking his family away. Then, maybe he could have learned about the Antichrist from Bruce Barnes at the same time as Buck.

And with that, we can dovetail into the things that Left Behind does not do so well. It really pains me to say this, but Tim LaHaye was right about something – this movie is cheap as fuck. Like, I know that people will say all sorts of things in a legal battle to try to sway the narrative, but I actually believe Tim LaHaye when he says that the film’s widely-reported $17.4 million budget is an exaggeration (and, adjusting for inflation, that would apparently be closer to $30 million today, which makes this even more insane to me). I’ve seen estimates that put the budget around $4 million, and I find that far more realistic considering what we got on-screen. Tim LaHaye has also gone on record saying that Cloud Ten’s productions look like “glorified church basement movies” and, oh my God, it’s a pretty apt description. Most of the film takes place in very simple sets – Ray’s home, a warehouse, a plane set, some office buildings, a UN set. They’re functional, but considering that we only get a very small handful of outdoor sequences, and they’re pitched as the “big” money-shot sequences (eg, air terminal chaos, Chloe coming across the car wreck, the car bombing), it underscores this film’s low production values. It also doesn’t help that the lighting in the film is absolute ass for most of the runtime, which is probably the largest contributing factor to why this movie feels so amateurish.

The absolute worst offender though is the aforementioned opening scene in “Israel”. As I said in the Production section, the second I saw that camel in the background I thought “Oh man, they clearly are NOT filming this on location, it looks like a quarry”. Then there’s the CGI of the planes and tanks during this sequence, which was poor even by year 2000 standards. I’ll give them some credit – there are some pretty good practical explosions during this sequence, almost enough to make you not realize that Buck and Chaim go into some random goat herder’s house, and suddenly are in a state-of-the-art military bunker. It’s pretty clear that most of the budget and ambition went into this opening scene, because it is miles beyond anything else in the film… but would it have taken up a good chunk of $17.4 million in the year 2000? I strongly doubt it.

Then again, I wonder how much they had to pay to borrow camels from the Toronto zoo for a day.

Left Behind is better than the book it’s based on, but there are fundamental issues which can’t really be excised in adaptation. Even as a child reading these books, one of my greatest frustrations was a deep-rooted lack of imagination on the part of the authours and the people inhabiting their world. Let’s look at an example to illustrate what I’m referring to here: as the attack on Israel gets underway, the skies suddenly darken, going from the middle of the day to black as night. In any other movie this could be construed as “passage of time”, or (potentially intentional) “continuity error”, but here it’s clearly intended to convey the intervention of God. However… no one comments on it. It’s supposed to be the middle of the day, but for whatever reason in Israel it suddenly became night time, defying meteorological explanation. And then all the planes begin exploding and everyone is just dumbfounded… and I do mean “just”, because there’s no explanation or speculation presented. Buck’s driving force for a good chunk of the movie is “Wow, I sure do wonder what happened there in Israel?”, but he seems to be the only one who cares, and the the whole question gets quietly dropped pretty soon in the movie. It’s not even like the world didn’t see this happen, it was literally being televised, but there’s zero impact beyond this scene. Like… are you telling me that there wasn’t a sizeable contingent of people going “That sure looks like it was divine intervention”?

Of course, the response to the Rapture falls into the same issue. “Huh, every non-Catholic Christian and child under thirteen in the world disappeared in a manner like the mythical rapture some evangelicals believed in. Wonder what happened, radiation maybe?” That last part isn’t even a joke either, radiation becomes the “official” explanation for what caused the disappearances, even though any moron could look at the demographics of the people who disappeared and find correlation showing that it was not random. One character believes that aliens were behind the disappearances (which, honestly, would probably be the second most obvious answer), while laughing about the idea of it being the Rapture, but that just underscores the issue – if they have information about the Rapture, it kind of defies explanation that they wouldn’t see that this miraculous event was anything other than that and instead handwave vaguely to “radiation” without any evidence. To me, this reveals a few potential insights into the authours’ opinions on the average non-Christian:

  1. Charitably, they might believe that God is “hardening their hearts” like the Pharaoh in Exodus, so that they cannot accept the obvious truth. If so, it’s kind of fucked up that God would then put them into this “final chance for redemption” and then take away their chance to see truth.
  2. They believe that the signs of God really are as obvious as they are portrayed in this movie and non-believers are just oblivious idiots. Hate to break it to them, but if we lived in a world God blew up an entire army and then caused hundreds of millions of children and Christians to disappear, there’d be a lot more converts, because then there would be some actual, concrete evidence for the supernatural.
  3. They believe that non-believers are actively looking for any excuse to defy God. Considering that “there are no real atheists” is a common belief amongst fundamentalists, this wouldn’t surprise me too much.

While I think that any (potentially even all) of these options are true, there’s also a much simpler explanation which could also be true: Jerry B. Jenkins is a hack writer who ignores any potential impact to the world because it interferes with the story he’s trying to tell… despite that story being one where the entire world’s population is undergoing countless disasters, the massive consequences of which should be being felt and responded to. There is so much impossible shit that happens in these books: in this first movie alone, completely ignoring full-on supernatural intervention, we have Israel magically developing technology to make the deserts fertile in order to become a global superpower. Kind of a weird plot point, until you realize they only did this because they believe it to have been prophesized. Our prophecies say that there will be a one-world currency? Guess we’re gonna make Korea join the EU now. Maybe this felt more realistic in the late 90s when the European Union was just taking form, but 20 years later in the wake of Brexit, this idea is laughably optimistic. And don’t even get me started on Israel rebuilding their temple, which even the movie acknowledges is impossible without the aforementioned magic and some handwaving to reveal that the temple can actually be built somewhere else… again, because their prophecy says that it has to happen, so by God they will force it to, then yada yada through the details and have everyone accept it. Oh, and this is also in a world where the UN basically rules the world already, which starts to make sense when you realize that Tim LaHaye believes in the Illuminati…

Underscoring all of this, I’ve always found it ironic that the existence of Left Behind makes the entire scenario even more impossible. Like, the premise of the books kind of works if the Rapture remains this weird thing that some evangelicals believe in, so you can see why some people wouldn’t immediately go “oh shit, the Rapture just happened!” if everyone suddenly disappeared. However, Left Behind was such a cultural juggernaut and has become so ingrained within the evangelical zeitgeist, that the idea of a Rapture occurring and not causing most people to immediately logically conclude that is laughable, let alone the idea that hundreds of millions of people would willingly go and tattoo themselves with 666 in light of all this.

Also, this scene is driving me nuts. 142,380,000 confirmed vanished? That’s got to be an interim and highly under-estimated total. There were 6 billion people in the year 2000 – we know that every child under the age of 13 was Raptured, in addition to a high number of Christians. Assuming even 10% of the world’s population was raptured (which seems like a very low estimate considering that world population demographics tends to skew young), that’s still over 600 million people.

Rounding things out here, it wouldn’t be an IC2S review if I didn’t at least mention the ladies… and they are really poorly served here. Hattie Durham is set up to be important, but she doesn’t really do anything – she ends her affair with Rayford and then goes off to the UN to work with Carpathia. Real riveting stuff… I have no idea why Chelsea Noble was so keen to play her. Then there’s Chloe Steele, whose entire character in this movie is “mad at dad” until the end when she decides that he’s right, they should convert to Christianity. As I recall from reading the books, Chloe does basically nothing important for the entire series and only really exists to be a love interest for Buck. I expect that this probably stems from LaHaye’s regressive views on women (his wife Beverly founded an anti-feminist womens’ organization, Concerned Women for America, which, among other things, advocates for the subservience of women…). As a result, Chloe isn’t allowed to do anything cool, so she just kind of exists on the sidelines.

When it comes down to it, the overarching message of Left Behind doesn’t come across as “You don’t want this to happen to you!” Rather, when Rayford came home and saw his wife’s clothes and her Bible beside the bed, the message became clear to me: “I told you so”. Perhaps it is a consequence of Cloud Ten making this film directly for the Christian market, but Left Behind feels like it’s jerking off its audience, reassuring them that their beliefs are true and, boy, those sinners sure are going to regret not listening to you when this happens to them! It’s not as nakedly spiteful as, say, the God is Not Dead movies, or is it as smugly hateful as Atlas Shrugged, but there doesn’t seem to be much of an effort made into changing hearts and minds as it is saying “Your beliefs will be vindicated, just wait”.

That is all pretty harsh, and like I said, this movie isn’t all that bad. That said, it’s also not exactly great – it is, after all, an adaptation of Left Behind, so it’s always going to be screwed to some degree. As you can see, other than the really poor production values, most of my issues with the film are related to the shitty books and theology it rests upon, which cannot be entirely ignored, but they also aren’t really issues with the film itself. However, it’s not so intrusive in this film that you can’t mostly ignore it, and I think that there is some enjoyment that can be had here with this premise if you’re able to put up with all the bullshit.

5/10 (A very generous rating, if I do say so.)

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in this series, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force!

15 Best Movie Posters of 2023

I may not be writing as much as I used to, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before I miss my mostly-annual year-end countdowns! In case you’re unfamiliar with how this works, I spend the year trolling through impawards and collecting all the really cool, interesting and striking poster designs for 2023 movies and then narrow them down into a shortlist. As always, any poster released during the year is eligible to make the list, but special consideration is given to posters which are intended for mass distribution rather than posters which are intended to be limited-release, alternative, “artistic” posters. As usual, you can see the full-sized poster in all its glory if you click on the images.

Anyway, with those considerations out of the way, let’s get onto the list, starting with some honourable and dishonourable mentions:

The Drew Struzan style is over-done and tired at this point, a lazy trope to make a poster look nostalgic and exciting without having to put in any actual effort to design something original. On top of that, I couldn’t care less about a new Indiana Jones movie in 2023. However… I’d be lying if it wasn’t nice to see the iconic Struzan style brought back for one last hurrah where it absolutely is warranted, for the franchise which is perhaps most intrinsically tied to this style. It wasn’t enough to make the list proper, but I felt it worth highlighting.

Oh, and speaking of the Struzan style, here we have the poster for a new Left Behind movie. I’ll be honest, the poster itself is incredibly dull, but I mainly put it here to shit on this series and Kevin Sorbo. Also, Neal McDonough, you poor man, what the hell happened to you to make you have to slum this hard? I haven’t had the spark to do a new Retrospective series, considering all the time and effort that has to go into writing them, but dammit the idea of looking at all the Left Behind movies fills me with a sinister excitement… Maybe stay tuned in 2024 if I can muster the motivation.

Okay, this one deserves some mention for how effective these posters are for a “ridiculous slasher villain” movie. These would all be slightly-above-average posters for a regular slasher film, but add in the decent tagline and how seriously they’re taking the ridiculous premise, I can’t help but chuckle.

And with that said, let’s get into our top 15 proper:

15) Saw X

Saw X starts the list with a couple posters that I found fairly clever in their simplicity. First off is the “eye poster”, which instantly evokes a sense of primal terror before you even notice the saw shape at the edge of the iris, revealing what the victim is so scared of. The “I Heart Saw” isn’t quite as striking, but I do appreciate how it cheekily calls back to the series’ legacy of posters featuring severed body parts, hinting that this is a sequel aiming to go back to the franchise’s roots.

14) Nimona

Back when I was in university, one of the most important lessons I learned came from an American literature prof who had a blunt, but effective motto when we were writing essays: “Why should I care?” I think about that whenever I’m writing, and it’s a lesson that can be applied in most walks in life. For a poster designer, the job is (usually) to sell a movie, so “Why should I care?” presents a challenge with results that can be intriguing, if you check out this countdown annually.

I mention this because these posters for Nimona represent a twist on the usual approaches to “Why should I care” from graphic designers. Honestly, these posters have sold me on Nimona, and they aren’t doing anything particularly special in their own right. They just demonstrate that if you are working with a strong, charming art style, then that can be enough to sell a movie on its own, without any special flair being required on top of that. The designers of these posters are clearly putting in some work in order to be able to highlight the art so stylishly, so credit where it’s due, but this is one of those cases where character and tone are expressed so strongly in the character designs that you don’t really need anything else. These lists aren’t just about elaborate artistry or unique twists, sometimes it’s just working with the pieces you have and realizing that they can speak for themselves. I just thought that that was neat.

13) Super Mario Bros.: The Movie

I’m not a massive Mario fan – I enjoy the 8- and 16-bit classics, but never have played much of the games beyond that point. However, looking at this poster, I can’t help but get hyped. This is a perfect distillation of what a Mario fan would want to see in a movie, full of colourful, iconic imagery and easter eggs, similar to the Detective Pikachu poster a few years ago. It’s also worth noting that this establishes that the art style will be familiar to fans, which you wouldn’t think would be that notable, but considering that the last attempt at a Mario movie ended up being a surreal, dystopian, live-action fever dream, it’s warranted.

12) The Boogeyman

Look, if a movie’s posters are pulling off imagery which would be The Moneyshot in your average horror film, you know someone’s doing something right. The fact that these posters are actually rather scary in their own right, while still keeping its titular villain shrouded in mystery, is a bonus as well. I have no idea if this movie is any good, but if the marketing is this strong, it certainly suggests that you’d be in for a good time.

11) Expend4bles

Full disclosure: I’ve always loved this poster design which has been used across the entire Expendables franchise, to the point that it was the basis for my custom logo back when I spend hundreds of hours playing Battlefield 4. The skull + wings (or, in this case, hair) made of various weapons is a flawless bit of symbology for a deeply flawed franchise, promising all the action you could ever want from its star-studded cast. It still works here for me, and it’s good enough that I’ll even forgive that idiotic tagline.

10) The Deepest Breath

I call this the “Free Solo poster design philosophy” – a poster for a documentary which is just a simple picture of someone doing something batshit insane. While The Deepest Breath can’t quite match the same level of sheer intensity as Free Solo (to be fair, few could), it still promises an ass-clenching thriller of a documentary that will thriller your thalassophobia to record levels.

9) Cocaine Bear


8) How to Blow Up a Pipeline

This one gets a spot for how its title is worked into the image. It’s simple on its face, but very stark, evocative, even transgressive. I can’t help but be impressed by how the title makes it work – on many posters, the title is just there to let you know what the movie’s called. Some posters use a tagline to try to tell you what it’s about, and use characters and imagery to try to sell it. This just has a simple barrel and some inflammatory language, and it instantly gives you an idea of the sort of journey you’re in for with this movie. Kind of like Nimona, this is a lesson in using what you have, to an even more extreme degree, since they’re almost exclusively using the title to sell the film. While maybe this makes for a poster that’s less striking than some of the others on first glance, it’s a fascinating case when you think about the decisions put into it.

7) Barbie

I could not be further from the target audience for a Barbie movie, but goddamn do these posters nail the titular character’s pop cultural footprint. First of all, the “larger than life” poster is what made this rank so highly – it succinctly and artfully evokes how Barbie is an icon, a monolith which girls have looked up to for decades (literally, in this case). Meanwhile, the second poster deserves some mention because it shows that not only is Margot Robbie the perfect casting for Barbie, but assures the audience that the film understands Barbie as a character and is going to deliver on those expectations.

6) Swallowed

Do I really need to explain this one? This one just looks BLOODY PAINFUL, and assures you that you are in for an extremely uncomfortable time if you watch this movie. For a certain class of horror fan, what more could you ask for?

5) Candy Land

I really love this poster. It’s so evocative – it’s appropriately sleazy and erotic, hinting at nudity while barely obscuring it, and the faux-vintage design and blood splatters only serve to heighten all of that. Obscuring the subject’s face also serves to depersonalize her, lending the whole design a forbidden, voyeuristic quality which is nearly as uncomfortable as the more overt imagery Swallowed uses.

4) John Wick: Chapter 4

A John Wick movie came out this year, so you know they went hog wild on amazing posters. As usual, the artists really need to be commended here, because they’ve put together enough stylish designs that I could have made an entire list just of the best John Wick posters. They’re all just goddamn cool, but not quite enough to put them at the top of the list this year.

3) Oppenheimer

This is one of those posters where the title kind of brings it all together. First you see the extremely harshly-lit picture and wonder what the hell is happening. Then your eye is drawn to the title and it becomes chilling as you realize the apocalyptic awe of what is unfolding. It’s a poster that basically tells the story of Oppenheimer in one image and makes you want to see that unprecedented power unleashed for yourself. Pretty impressive I’d say for a poster which is so harshly lit that it obscures most of what you can actually see in it.

2) Spider-man: Across the Spider-verse

Every frame of this movie os fucking art and these posters prove it. The “Gwen and Miles” poster is just a random frame from the movie, but it is so stylish and well-composed that it is enough to completely sell me on the movie by itself. Just looking at it, you can tell that they’re having a good time just sitting and chatting, and that Gwen is absolutely simmering for Miles. It’s wild – this is a bombastic Spider-man movie, but what is selling me is wanting to hang out with these characters and see how their relationship blossoms. Again, that’s the power of a strong art style, it can make the marketing easy if you know what you’re doing.

Then there’s the standard character poster. You’ll notice that I haven’t even included any other “character posters” in this list, despite them making up like 70% of all movie posters released in a year. Usually these are bloody dull affairs, meant to do nothing more than introduce and familiarize an audience to the characters of the movie, but more often just turn into boring window-dressing made more out of obligation than inspiration. This poster of Gwen breaks that tradition, being colourful and eye-catching on its own, but it also utilizes the movie’s strong art style to hint that Gwen is going to be on a conflicted journey in Across the Spider-verse. It’s not just an excuse to show a name and have them look cool, the same thought that’s gone into every frame of the movie is on display here in its marketing. It would be enough to take my #1 spot, if not for…

1) Evil Dead Rise

These posters got me for the sheer sadistic creativity on display. They might be confusing at first as your eye is naturally going to be drawn to the rather mundane household objects, but if you’ve ever seen an Evil Dead film (especially the 2013 remake), then when your eye is eventually drawn to the title, these objects are twisted into PAINFUL promises. “Oh God, I can just imagine the brutality of the cheese grater and scissors, but what the fuck are they going to do with the wine glass!?” It’s a less-is-more approach as you think of all the gory possibilities and this nasty bit of imagination born from such a simple bit of imagery is exactly why Evil Dead Rise‘s posters get my #1 rank this year.