After grabbing its audience with a genuinely interesting hook – millions of people disappear in the blink of an eye, and a commercial pilot must try to land his plane despite the chaos on the ground below – Left Behind is undoubtedly one of the most disappointing movies ever made.
To further add to the disappointment, it stars the once proud Nicolas Cage in a leading role as Rayford Steele – no, that’s not a typo – the not-so-good father and husband preparing to engage in extra-marital concert attendance with a member of his cabin crew.
So far, so good – except all of that is led in the first 5 minutes, and it’s all downhill from there. For another half an hour or so, nothing happens other than an unconvincingly written atheistic rant about God not saving people from earthquakes and an awkwardly shoehorned meet-cute between Chloe Steele, Rayford’s daughter (no, still not a typo), and Cameron “Buck” Williams, an investigative journalist preparing to board Steele’s flight.
The men-folk take to the skies, leaving Chloe with her pushy religious mother (Lea Thompson) and irritating little brother Rayford “Raymie” Steele Jr. (Major Dodson) as the promised event finally takes place, thankfully vanishing half of the movie’s cast – and leaving Chloe alone and confused on the ground.
At this point, despite a handful of uninspired performances and robotic dialogue, Left Behind seems to be fairly promising still – with careful cinematography drawing our eyes to the extras in the background helping to build a sense of foreboding, and a couple of characters that seem marginally worth paying attention to – but unfortunately, that’s where the promise ends.
From here, it’s little more than a cookie-cutter disaster movie, except any semblance of effort on the part of the actors is all but non-existent. There’s run-of-the-mill twists and turns that only highlight what nonsense the movie’s plot is, and then a dawning sense of horrified realisation that Left Behind is nothing more than over-preachy religious filler fluffed up to look something like a blockbuster.
Particular low points include a scene that shows Chloe climb to the top of a bridge to watch the sunset, holding her mother’s necklace as jarring cringeworthy music swells, and the inclusion of a Muslim character that’s none-too-subtly left behind by God to experience the end of days with the adulterers and evil atheists.
While religious discussion can theoretically work in film, Left Behind feels more like Church propaganda than an actual Hollywood movie, and it’s entirely unrepentant (pun very much intended) in its message. Yes, the movie’s religious nature was obvious to anyone who read the books it was based on – all twelve of them – but for those it took unaware, it felt more like a slap in the face than a movie.
Summary: Left Behind goes out of its way to passive-aggressively warn us of eternal damnation, but ironically, watching it gives us a small taste of exactly what Purgatory feels like.