“The only thing that can save the dying little town [of St. Michaels, Indiana]…IS AN UNSPEAKABLE TRAGEDY” (from the back over of 94 Feet)
Life is hard for the folks in Indiana’s mining country, where regular lay-offs have left the townspeople feeling worried, scared, and all but hopeless. When management informs their crews that 75% will be let go, best-loved Crew Chief Chris Rossi—whose job was otherwise safe—chooses to turn his back on the town and move on to greener fields. This decision embitters those who remain against the Rossi family, heightening tensions all around. On the workers’ final day, tragedy strikes when the mine collapses, killing some and trapping others. Forced to bond both above ground and under as they await rescue, the characters find comfort in the only thing that lasts, the love of God.
This film is the first I’ve watched from writer-director Chip Rossetti, who majors in the Christian and Family genres, though I can gauge a few characteristics about his other films from what I’ve seen here. First, his overall stories are solid. Some characters in this film seemed canned and the dialogue should have been cut in some places, but the tension was palpable in others, especially in the scenes where the Rossis seem to have turned their backs on the town.
Second, his character drawing and actor selection needs a lot of work. I won’t pinpoint any particular actors from this film, but more than a couple need to learn how to flee the word-for-word scripts they’ve been given and make their characters come alive. Great actors are their characters, they don’t just wear their clothes. Several scenes seemed far too forced for me to simply believe as a story, not as a low-budget film with low-grade actors.
Third, it seems that Rossetti is stuck with low-budget producers, which is the sad but true state of affairs for most in the faith-based film industry. Thankfully, however, this trend is slowly changing for such production companies as Sherwood Pictures and Provident Films, whose growing successes and larger revenues make way for better-produced films. I don’t know if these production companies support one another or if they view each other as bitter rivals, but I would hope that one day the successes of some turn into the mutual growth of all. In 94 Feet there were some major lighting, focus, and sound deficiencies which distracted me from the plot at hand, especially early on during the 3-way phone conversation. Some of these issues could have been fixed even during post-production, so I’m curious why they weren’t.
Finally, Rossetti has a burden to get the Gospel out. Twice in this film the Gospel presentation was made, which is an honorable though not entirely necessary addition. I liken the Gospel in Christian films to Creation sermons in a Sunday morning service: You’re preaching to the crowd, so is it really necessary? I certainly do not want to knock to Gospel presentation! However, one reason faith-based films never go mainstream is that they come across as (not shockingly) too preachy. Can’t more Christian writers simply spark questions for their audience and then later (whether on websites or DVD extras) provide more answers to those questions?
I remember struggling in my Creative Writing classes in college with the question, “What makes this story or book Christian?” Honestly, “Jesus” or the Gospel” don’t have to be the only two answers to that question. Books and movies are so intertwined these days with their websites and social networks that the initial stimulus need not be the main message. I hope that in time more Christian writers will recognize this and create provocative and less-preachy works of art that draw larger crowds, spark greater debates, and lead to more biblically sound resources than a mere 114-minute film could offer.
Thanks to FishFlix for making this film available for review! You can find many more Christian and Family films on FishFlix, so check them out.