Documentary featuring: Kevin Miller, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo; Bob Larson, Brad Jersak, David Bruce, Frank Schaeffer, Gregory A. Boyd, Jaime Clark-Soles, Justin Taylor, Mark Driscoll, Mike Bickle, Ray Comfort, Robert McKee, Sharon Baker.
Director: Kevin Miller
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Date: September 21, 2012
Home Video Release Date: TBD
North American Box Office: $19 Thousand
Kevin Miller XI Productions and Area23a.
Written by: Kevin Miller.
★★★ (out of 5 stars)
One of the more interesting documentaries I have seen in recent months, Hellbound? is a faith-based documentary which questions the very existence of Hell. A film such as this could go a number of different ways. The film could take an evangelical bend and carry forward a narrow focus that Hell is real and souls sent there will suffer eternal damnation. Or, the film could dispel the entire notion of Hell, and Heaven for that matter, similar to Bill Maher’s provocative and intriguing documentary Religulous a few years back. Refreshingly, what director Kevin Miller opts to do is open the question up for debate amongst a wide and far-reaching panel of Christians – pastors, theologians, as well as other religious believers and non-believers, embodying a sample sort from a handful of the 20,000 different Christian denominations which exist in the world, and those who adhere to an agnostic or atheistic religious view.
Although taking a neutral stance, Miller is a believer in his personal life, here he looks to find answers on the notion and beliefs that have made Hell not only a commodity used by religious leaders to play into people’s fears and trepidations, but also whether there can be evidence for a tangible answer to the overriding question of “if there is a Hell, where is it and who is sent there?”. Admittedly, this is all a bit esoteric and for some, disclaiming that Hell is an addressable place somewhere for people to end up at upon their death is heresy. To Miller’s credit, he has stocked his film with folks who are themselves exploring the answers to the questions Miller seeks.
As a film, Hellbound? is pretty rudimentary and, at a mere 84 minutes, feels stretched almost too thin, Miller can only able to do so much with his thesis. However, he does unearth some pretty fascinating people. The founder of Hollywoodjesus.com, David Bruce, offers a unique entertainment focused perspective on the subject, while evangelical minister Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Bible Church offers an interesting dichotomy – speaking fair-minded and calm with Miller but then fiery and abrasive when giving a sermon. Miller, perhaps not surprisingly, opens his film with the Westboro Baptist Church, the folks who protest funerals and have championed “God Hates Fags” as their symbolic rallying cry, but moves them out of the way almost as quickly as he spends time with death metal musicians at a Black Metal festival. Yes, GWAR fans, your band is featured.
Through all of this however, Miller gets you thinking about your own internal views on religion, Heaven and Hell, and the existence of it or lack thereof. Metaphorical or real, I had no idea that there were so many wildly divergent opinions on this particular topic. Shortsided on my part I suppose, but as someone who has never had religion and/or faith present in his life until fairly recently, I assumed everyone bickered, argued, and posited on the stories and teachings of the Bible and that Heaven and Hell were rather foregone conclusions. I could not apparently have been more wrong.
Enlightening as it is, Hellbound? was apparently inspired in part by a noted Christian author and founder of the Mars Hill Bible Church, Rob Bell, and his polarizing book Love Wins. In it, among other views, Bell proposed, in stark contrast to many of his peers, that Hell is not a place of conscious torment and believing as such stands in stark contrast to the fundamental teachings of Jesus. The outcry was far and expansive and in seeking out many different and influential voices on the topic, Kevin Miller keeps that particular dialogue running intermittently throughout his film.
Hellbound? would appear to be limited for only a faith-based crowd but it speaks beyond that. I wish the repetition was less at times, but Miller’s genuineness in investigating the topic, his willingness to give many different voices a stage, all works to create a tapestry of opinions centered around one of the most basic beliefs found in organized and orthodox religion. For some, the mere fact that the film exists is blasphemy, but for others, there is plenty to consider and ponder no matter where in the religious spectrum you position your beliefs.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Finally, a faith-based film that is inquisitive and not definitive. For one, I found this film’s mere existence a bit liberating and brave.
- More accessible than one may think, Hellbound? is an easy and insightful conversation starter of a film.
- The diverse mix of people Kevin Miller assembles is a plus, adding to the thoughtful opinions and viewpoints expressed.
- The sheer attempt at making a movie on this topic will seem ridiculous to a lot of people who either are fervently stoic in their religious beliefs or find religion to be a crock. If you are not open to the exploration, this is not a journey you will be interested in taking.
- Hellbound? will rankle the feathers of people who find the questioning of Hell as heresy.
- In all honesty, I can think of only a select few people I know who would be interested in this, thus limiting the potential audience for a small, if not well-intentioned film such as this.