Suspenseful swashbuckling, mad scientists, a conspiracy plot, beautiful CGI animation and a star-crossed romance are not exactly the elements that viewers have come to expect in Christian films. The new historical thriller 'Beyond the Mask' breaks all these rules and then some, and the result is an action-packed and truly enjoyable family movie.
For many years, the Christian film industry has been plagued by overzealous storytelling, the use of dried-up cliches, and the same few actors starring in every single movie. It seems fitting that a film about the dawn of a nation's freedom would also be a movie that explores just how free, fun and adventurous a "Christian" and "family-friendly" theatrical realease can really be.
The plot is, at first, pretty straightforward. It's 1775, and William Reynolds (played wonderfully by Andrew Cheney) is a mercenary hired by the original Evil Corporation, the East India Company, to do their dirty work. The orchestrator of William's misdeeds is Charles Kemp (played with convincing vim by John Rhys-Davies), who promises William a hefty payment for his actions. However, when William announces that he's out of the business of murdering-for-money, his relationship with Kemp takes a dark turn and Kemp attempts to have him killed. William survives, but the fellow passenger that was in his stagecoach - a vicar named Stephen - isn't so lucky. William takes on Stephen's name and impersonates a man of the cloth to fool Kemp into thinking the assassination was a success.
While in the process of impersonating this vicar, two things happen. First, William begins to feel remorse and shame over his past actions as a mercenary. He also starts to fall in love with the beautiful and kind local beauty, Charlotte (Kara Killmer). What William doesn't know is that Charlotte is the niece of the very same man that wants to destroy him. When Charlotte leaves England to go to "the colonies" -- the budding United States -- with her uncle, William follows.
Weaving together true events of the American Revolution and real historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, 'Beyond the Mask' is easy to follow and, for the most part, free of the plot-holes that often befall lower-budget productions. Directed by Chad Burns ('Pedragon: Sword of my Father'), the movie's fight choreography and period costuming are to be commended. With a slim budget of $4 million, Burns Family Productions manages to create a film that visually rivals many big budget movies of the same genre (such as 'The Count of Monte Cristo' and 'Zorro'.) Pretty good for a movie that was funded, in part, by a 2011 Kickstarter campaign.
The screenplay was written by 'Adventures in Odyssey' writer Paul McCusker. Surpisingly, the script is a bit light on dialogue at times, which often leaves character development to be physically demonstrated by the actors themselves. That's okay, because Cheney and Killmer both do a terrific job of convincing the audience that they are falling in love. However, according to photos on Cheney's Instagram account, the two are a real-life couple -- so perhaps they weren't acting. Whatever the case may be, their chemistry comes across as easy and believable.
Most refreshing was the depiction of Charlotte's character. Far beyond the trope of a pretty girl waiting for her Prince Charming, Charlotte is spirited, courageous, and interested in self-enrichment. She views her relationships and the world around her shrewdly, but without cynicism or calculation. She displays the strength of her convictions without ever appearing pious. Even her love interest defines her by her warmth and kindness, rather than by her beauty alone. To see a character on screen that embodies a woman that is lively (without being careless), loyal (without being blind) and brave (without coming off brash) is incredibly rare.
While 'Beyond the Mask' contains plenty of romantic scenes, it is as its core a story of redemption. William attempts to rehabilitate himself in multiple ways, including "starting over" with a new identity (or two), but can't seem to shake the sins of his past. Christian audiences will appreciate William's eventual revelation that forgiveness, and love, can never be earned, but are given freely -- if one simply asks.
'Beyond the Mask' will hit 100 select theatres everywhere, today. Check local listings to find a theater near you.