Movies with religious themes are generally marred in such controversy merely due to their subject matter that critics seem to determine whether or not the movie is any good before they watch a single frame of film. Whether or not the critic agrees a religion’s overall message has a significant impact on his review. I doubt that everyone who praised the 2014 film Whiplash agreed with the director’s message (or even interpreted that message the same way). On the other hand, religious movies tend to be more dogmatic than interpretive, posing absolute truths rather than exploring an issue from multiple angles. When taken to an extreme, this results in a film with not only a misguided message, but poor story structure and character development as the path to resolving the characters’ conflict is railroaded through the director’s vision of salvation (see: Facing the Giants a.k.a. “Surrender yourself to God and you will literally receive everything you want” the movie).
Voiceless is unabashedly a religious film made for religious people. It doesn’t really explore the nuances of its its pro-life doctrine, much less compromise it. It is not a film that attempts to convince those who are not pro life to consider changing their views (unlike the films Bella, October Baby, or even Juno). While it’s disappointing that the issue of abortion itself is only explored minimally (most of the main character’s argument against abortion is “you don’t have to do this”), arguing with a pro-choice audience was not the purpose of this film. Director Pat Neceerato created Voiceless as a literal call to action (or in this case a “text this number to action”) for those who are already pro life but reluctant to act on their beliefs. It highlights the challenges involved in taking action for a cause you believe in, overcoming opposition both internal and external. This is what separates Voiceless from other religious films in that faith alone does not solve the main character’s problems. In one scene where the main character Jesse proposes that something be done about the abortion clinic, the congregation actually misuses their faith to try to avoid taking action saying that they should “just pray about it.” This scene wasn’t meant to discount the impact of prayer, but to highlight how sometimes people can misuse elements of their faith as excuses to not take action when they’re scared.
The overall story had an almost frightening tone overall. The colors were all dampened by both natural lighting decisions (primarily shooting on cloudy days) and post-production filters that gave the movie nearly a monochromatic palate at times. The exposition at the beginning of the movie was, for lack of a better word, efficient, trying to get several characters of varying degrees of relevance to the story introduced . What the movie gained from the quick introductions was the ability to build atmosphere with non-speaking scenes of Jesse walking around the neighborhood with the weight of his surroundings becoming almost tangible. It allows for moments of self reflection and empathy towards the main character; letting the audience know how deeply he cared about the issue of abortion. Overall, the movie allowed for more intimate character development and was not afraid to shy away from making the audience feel almost uncomfortable with the tension between characters and their environment.
The movie was far from perfect. Being an independent film the depth of talent for the actors is limited. In particular, the characters with minor roles tended to overact more than the main characters. The biggest example is during a funeral, where one of the relatives of the deceased flips out at the main character for being a “religious freak.” This could have been a powerful scene that shows the opposition that one faces in Jesse’s line of work, but due to a combination of poor acting and terrible dialogue, it just came off as unbelievably awkward. There were some surprisingly good performances as well, particularly on the part of James Russo who played an excellent antagonist in Pastor Gil. The acting was generally good for an independent movie, but still below the standard that one would expect from a mainstream Hollywood film.
The purpose of reviews is to advise people whether or not to see a movie and/or prompt a discussion of the movie’s merits and shortcomings. Voiceless makes it quite clear that if you are not pro-life that you are not meant for this movie. The fact that some people pan it anyway despite the movie clearly not being for them is as silly as grown adults complaining about Barney the Dinosaur. The movie was a call to action for Christians; and personally, it got me fired up by the end of the film. It certainly got me questioning why I choose to do the types of service that I do and wondering if I could do more. I didn’t text the number that was given at the end of the film (because if I want to volunteer for a pro life cause, I’ll do so within the Catholic Church), but I certainly hope that the movie lit a fire in people’s hearts and encouraged those who are lukewarm about their faith to get more involved.