Directed by Cyrus Nowrasteh. Produced by Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Tracy K. Price, Mark Radcliffe, and Mark W. Shaw. Written by Cyrus Nowrasteh and Betsy Giffen Nowrasteh. Release date: March 11, 2016.
Of all the things I thought I’d say, I never thought one of them would be “biblical movie based on the novel by Anne Rice.” But, here we sit with The Young Messiah, which is a biblical movie based on the novel by Anne Rice. Yes, the woman who brought us a whole host of vampire books also wrote a couple about Jesus as a child, the first of which, titled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, has been adapted into a film.
You know what? That’s not a bad idea for a movie. After all, there isn’t very much written about Jesus’ childhood in the Bible, so we’ve theoretically got a lot of territory to explore here. What the novel and the filmmakers came up with, however, is akin to little more than a bland superhero origin story. There’s a young boy, he begins to have the ability to use supernatural powers, and he must keep his identity hidden in order to protect his loved ones from persecution. Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? But because we’re talking about Jesus, you’re not going to get any complex character or even any interesting motivations out of it.
The film picks up with Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) as a child of about seven or eight years old. He and his family have spent the last few years in Egypt, but decide to go back to their home in Nazareth after Joseph (Vincent Walsh), Jesus’ foster father, has a dream that this is what they should do. Along the way, Jesus performs a couple of miracles that make the Romans mad, so the king sends a squad led by a Severus (Sean Bean) to find Jesus and kill him. Meanwhile, Joseph and Mary (Sara Lazzaro) refuse to tell Jesus who he is, because he’s just a child and being burdened with the knowledge that he’s the son of God may or may not be too much for a child to bear, even if that child is literally the son of God.
That’s basically all that happens in the entire 110-minute running time that makes up The Young Messiah. There’s almost no tension or conflict, very little in terms of events that happen, and the character growth amounts to simply gaining a bit of knowledge. It’s a couple of big travel scenes interspersed with the Romans doing a less interesting reenactment of Risen (but with lower production values; this is a cheap-looking film) – and sometimes Jesus heals sick people. The conclusion we’re meant to draw, I can only assume, is that Jesus’ childhood is largely absent from the Bible because it was boring as sin.
Too boring to be anything other than fluff, The Young Messiah has a potentially promising premise, but doesn’t do anything with it.
Actually, there’s one interesting element to The Young Messiah, and it comes in the form of Rory Keenan‘s character. He’s someone whose voice can influence other characters’ actions, and who can physically interact with the world, even though he can only be seen by Jesus. He’s got long blonde hair and often wears a cloak. I assumed he was supposed to be Satan in human form, but the credits only call him “The Demon.” He’s amusing only because things actually happen on account of him, and because his appearance is so random, and different from everyone else, so as to make things interesting for a while. If he would’ve brought out the maniacal laughter, he might’ve made The Young Messiah far more enjoyable than it wound up being.
Adam Greaves-Neal has a very difficult task in this movie. He’s just a kid, and he’s been picked to portray Jesus. I doubt any child would be up for the task. Greaves-Neal most certainly isn’t. For most of the running time, we see him with a look of mild confusion on his face. Few lines of dialogue are delivered with any confidence behind them. There are actually three main children in the movie, and sadly he’s technically the best of the bunch; when the other two open their mouths, it’s painful. Most of the adults don’t offer much when it comes to dramatic depth, but at least we aren’t suffering when they’re on-screen. Sean Bean is the most watchable, but even he looks bored more often than not.
Too boring to be anything other than fluff, The Young Messiah has a potentially promising premise, but doesn’t do anything with it. We know how it’s going to turn out, its protagonist isn’t made to be an interesting character, and it’s too uneventful to be anything more than an insomnia cure. It’s filled with bad-to-mediocre acting, low production values, and a story that simply isn’t worth telling. The Young Messiah is Jesus’ childhood filtered through the lens of the blandest superhero origin story ever.
Bottom Line: Boring as sin, it turns out that even Jesus can’t make a generic origin story interesting.
Recommendation: The Young Messiah‘s premise is one that’s better to imagine than see.[rating=1.5]