The problem, yet again, with so many Christian-focused films is the amount of reverence that must be placed at the feet of its subjects. This reverence usually takes the form of a dramatic flatness and an emotional sincerity that sucks the mere idea of entertainment from the film. A very serious subject matter means a very serious film — the unfortunate side effect being that anyone who’s not already a believer is unlikely to get much from what’s onscreen. Cyrus Nowrasteh’s The Young Messiah — the latest tale of Jesus to hit your local multiplex — is no different, a solemn story of 7-year-old Jesus Christ (Adam Greaves-Neal), full of beards, robes and furrowed brows.
This is Jesus, after all, and even if The Young Messiah is building on the source material of an Anne Rice novel and a lot of speculation that’s definitely not found in the Bible, Nowrasteh and company aren’t going to do anything to frighten the horses and ruin their chance at a payday. The film, in essence and like so many superhero films, is an origin story, an attempt at filling in some blanks around Jesus’ childhood, framed around the flight from Egypt illustrated in The Gospel of Matthew. There are problems with this approach. Read some Spider-Man comics and then watch another reboot, and you know where it’s all headed. Watch a film about young Jesus and the same issue pops up. There’s only so much that can be done with the subject and only so much tension and drama to be squeezed from it, especially within the constraints of its sober Christian message.
For instance, the film’s narrative arc, involving Jesus returning from Egypt after years hiding from Herod (Jonathan Bailey), has nowhere to go. In theory, the push and pull of the plot lies within the possibility of Jesus being captured and slaughtered as Herod protects his throne. Spoiler alert: This isn’t how Jesus dies. So there’s only so far The Young Messiah can go, only so much it’s able, naturally, to do. Then you add on the self-seriousness, the humorlessness that the story of kid Jesus unfortunately demands, plus a near two-hour running time, and The Young Messiah is a long, tough test of endurance.
Director Nowrasteh (The Stoning of Soraya M.) seems indifferent to actually doing anything about this problem. Yes, it’s professionally photographed and often handsome looking, but The Young Messiah is pretty inert when it comes to the actual cinematic craft. It looks more like a TV show than a film and this no-frills approach does nothing to actually stir up interest, something The Young Messiah desperately needs. Rated PG – 13 for some violence and thematic elements.