If I were to compare Beyond the Mask to any other film, it would unquestionably be Bill Muir's The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone, a modestly budgeted faith-based indie that captivated Indy's own Heartland Film Festival before snagging a limited nationwide distribution deal and, eventually, a visible spot on the home video market.
While The Lost Medallion was flawed, it was a rather fun step forward for Christian cinema in that it featured action and adventure and even a few thrills along the way to its family entertainment.
Now then, I'm fairly sure the folks at Burns Family Studios would much rather you compare Beyond the Mask to a more successful, in terms of both artistry and finances, Amazing Grace, more a faith-inspired film yet a film that seemed to trigger within the filmmakers of faith community a desire to spread their wings into other genres. Beyond the Mask is, after all, NOT a film targeting the kiddies and its themes are of a decidedly more adult nature with the adventure being more adventurous, the thrills being more thrilling, and the smattering of romance actually being downright romantic.
That's fair. Beyond the Mask is a giant step forward for the Christian filmmaking industry, a film seemingly constructed out of the realization that it is possible to weave together genuinely entertaining cinema without surrendering one's core values. In other words, it is possible to experience adventure without giving into the excessive and gratuitous violence so often found in contemporary adventures. It is possible to be thrilled without being offensive. It is possible to be romantic without nudity or sexuality or even really hints of such.
If I were to describe Beyond the Mask in two words,it would be "pure fun." Yet, unlike so many films of the faith-based genre that have tried before it, Beyond the Mask is actually fun.
Already setting a new record for debuting on the most screens in the history of on-demand distribution, Beyond the Mask opens nationwide on April 6th, a bold and ambitious second feature film from Burns Family Studios after their debut film, the historical drama Pendragon: Sword of his Father, blew up the indie faith fest circuit and announced Burns Family Studios' arrival on the scene.
Beyond the Mask is also a historical drama set in the mid 1700s. The film follows the adventures of Will Reynolds (relative newcomer Andrew Cheney), the leading mercenary for the British East India Company, who is double-crossed by his employer that is helmed by Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and finds himself on the run in the American colonies in the period leading up to the colonial push for independence. Working to redeem his name and win back the affections of Charlotte (Kara Killmer, Chicago P.D.), Will now hides behind a mask hoping to thwart his former employer, while working against the clock to win the trust and support of Charlotte, and Ben Franklin (Alan Madlane), in an effort to defuse a plot of historic proportions.
It would be more than a little understandable if you're sitting there in your seat reading this a little skeptical of the faith-based film industry's ability to pull off such an endeavor. While Beyond the Mask isn't likely to be confused with a National Treasure, for faith-based cinema fans it will unquestionably be a cinematic breath of fresh air as it weaves together all the required elements of a National Treasure type film while maintaining the values of faith that are so important.
CGI? In a Christian film? Yep, it's true. Yep, for the most part it works wonders. With John 8:32, "Let true freedom ring," guiding its foundation, Beyond the Mask is a film that works because faith and story come first while the CGI is used to enhance the viewer's experience without dominating it or defining it. The result is a story you will find compelling, underlying values with which you will resonate, and CGI and special effects that will immerse you more fully in the experience of Beyond the Mask.
Beyond the Mask also works well because of a cohesive cast that seems to understand the mission and method behind the film. Andrew Cheney offers a charismatic performance as Will, a man with a dark past determined to build a brighter future. As the film's most experienced film vet, John Rhys-Davies plays evil convincingly without ever crossing that line into cartoonish, while Kara Killmer gives the film a warmth and emotional resonance as the convicted and conflicted Charlotte.
Directed by Chad Burns, whose only other film credit is Pendragon, Beyond the Mask also benefits from a terrific script by Peabody Award-winning writer Paul McCusker with some additional writing contributions by Stephen Kendrick (Courageous, Fireproof).
Beyond the Mask may, perhaps, signal that Christian filmmakers have finally realized that they can truly entertain Christian and secular moviegoers in a variety of genres without compromising their core values and without the excessive and overly preachy approach that preaches to the choir but doesn't really invite anyone else to the party.
Beyond the Mask DOES invite others to the party, yet it does so in a way that doesn't compromise its core values. It is both an entertaining family friendly adventure and a story about grace, liberty, and the freedom to be found only in a life in Christ.
For more information on Beyond the Mask or to order your tickets for one of the film's over 800 screenings nationwide, visit the film's website linked to in the credits to the left of this review.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic