Dir. Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Film #12 of The ‘Worst’ of Cinema
I worried, looking out of curiosity for reviews of this film online before planning one of my own, that by covering it I fall in danger of taking on the same cheap targets that I questioned professional critics of doing with the Jack and Jill (2011) review. Is anyone who reviews a film like this, including myself, really going to write anything thoughtful, even actually funny, or will this be like a bad video review where you see the whole film dispersed with obvious and bad jokes? Am I just being a hypocrite for reviewing this, and writing this entire introduction? I have broken a rule set up for this season by reviewing a film made by The Asylum company. I was willing to break the rules here because this movie seemed to be an exception from the material that made me put that rule up in the first place. It’s not about an overgrown, CGI fish monster but a low budget musical designed to take advantage of the High School Musical phenomenon and also be part of the company’s Faith Films subdivision, designed to make Christian themed films. Getting hold of this film was for the promise of a terrible movie, a concept that, as this season has gone on, is pretty questionable now, but in hindsight a genre that is usually extravagantly made turned into such a minuscule budgeted, Christian film was also a fascinating proposition. This kind of melding of genres and concepts in unexpected ways is like viewing abstract Non-Euclidean geometry within a HP Lovecraft story, trying to imagine all of its parts working together without going insane. The film itself is, well, what I have sadly come to expect from The Asylum company. As much as I want to love them, it feels like I keep going back to them like an idiot, as all of us who have reviewed their films, as they secretly praise us for the reviews even if they are negative ones.
When he is transferred to a new school, and away from his adored choir and friends, Zachery (Chris Chatman) finds it difficult to connect to his environment. His grades are failing, the choir at his new school are hopeless in terms of their musical abilities, and the church of his old choir is in danger of closing because of finance issues. However it is possible that, through joining together the choirs, and winning a competition, that every problem can be solved, all the while he slowly connects to the leader of the new choir Savannah (Candine Lakota) who has to overcome losing her mother only a few months earlier. In the film’s favour, the cast for the most part, especially Chatman, have musical talent; it is great that for such an ill advised take on a musical that there are people in front of the camera who can sing and have charisma, and there are moments where the music they are singing too is trying to be good. Unfortunately, for most of the film, it is also music at its most generic and sterilised rather than really good songs. This could be only my personal taste, but when songs have the same tone and sound to each other it is not a good sign. For the most part, it is merely bland and innocuous, but as with the song set around a bench, it can become terrible.
Sunday School Musical outside the music is completely worthless. Chatman had the potential to be someone special, if he had made anymore films after this 2008 production, but the rest of the film is cheap looking. It is sad that the practices of former exploitative film companies have not been continued for the most part this era; at least Roger Corman and Italian film producers would hire talented directors and film making personal and let them make whatever they want as long as it could be marketed for cinemas. Even Godfrey Ho had a sense of fun. In this era – where blockbusters hog the cinemas, and digital film cameras and computer effects are cheap – laziness has sadly been allowed to come into this sub culture of cinema. Even straight-to-video films from the yesteryear could attempt to be great works, and while there are still great films made today, wading for them in the mass is even more difficult. Sunday School Musical is bland looking, unnecessarily frequent and choppy in it’s editing, and just dull to sit through. I am more likely to sleep through another viewing of this than feel pain. As a cash-grab for High School Musical, which I admit to having not viewed alongside its sequels, it is a half-hearted attempt at a musical that could have been special even if it was a failure. The Cannon Group, back in the 1980s, would have tried something special even on a pittance. The Aslyum group, from Almighty Thor (2011), which I reviewed for this blog, to this, are exceptionally lackadaisical in their attitude. And what makes this even more disconcerting is that this is supposed to be a Christian film. There is very little in this film that really delves into faith or Christian values at all. It has choirs as it main plot and Savannah’s father is a preacher, but this seems arbitrary. It could be argued that these types of films don’t have to directly tackle issues of faith, but this is pointless as there are films already made that Christians enjoy and gain a lot from, and if there wasn’t, they could make their own films rather than rely on someone like The Asylum. A Christian film for me, as it stands now, should tackle the issues of faith in ordinary life, which Sunday School Musical fails to do at all and instead panders to a lame interpretation of R&B and hip-hop music lacking the bite and meaning to it. Alongside 2012 Doomsday (2008), another of these faith based films by the company I’ve seen, there is something exceptionally wrong about The Asylum’s attitude to these films that Corman or an Italian producer, even Ho, is completely innocent of. Not only are they making lazy rip-offs of blockbusters rather than fun ones like the Italians could make, but it can be argued that they are conning Christians, who would want movies for them, without any attempt at making something interesting. As an agnostic, I can see how something like Sunday School Musical, in its lifelessness, would be insulting to the Christian god, like offering a turd to Him as some kind of sacrificial gift and excepting to be lavished with praise.
And the worst part? I am dumb enough to review another film from them after my bile for Almighty Thor. Admittedly, I had hope for this to be something interesting from The Asylum, and I still want to see Mega Piranha (2010) and their take on the Halloween films, but I have tricked myself again even if I spent only 50p for a second hand disc. Are all of us who review these films, even mock them, just encouraging this sort of filmmaking paradoxically? For all the criticisms I’ve had with the film, I’ve just encouraged more people to watch this film when it should be ignored and vanish from existence. I could have scrapped this review to do this, but to both stroke my ego and out of need to write about this film, I have to post it. If the phrase ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’ ever applied to any context, this is the perfect time to use it. On my part, I may go for three and please The Asylum again, or actually have some common sense next time.