Years Of The Beast

Director: D. Paul Thomas 
Gary Bayer, Alana Rader, Malcon McCaiman

Let's face it - the world that we live in is full of turmoil and uncertainty. Certainly, a look in your daily newspaper or the news programs on TV will list all sorts of problems happening all over the world. But these problems can also include many of the things that happen in your home life, from wondering if your children are being raised the right way to safeguarding your home from thieves and other criminals. Sometimes it sure seems that life needs some kind of instruction book. And many people will claim that there is indeed an instruction book on life available - the Bible. But I have to confess that I am somewhat reluctant to pull out the Good Book when times are troubling. Don't get me wrong - I would like to believe that there is some kind of God-like force out there who you can depend. But the so-called evidence of his existence - the Bible - wasn't written in a way, in my opinion, to be convincing. Let me give some examples of the Bible, for example. I have problems with the whole Noah's ark thing. Apparently people have determined that Noah would have enough room on the vessel for a pair of every animal on Earth, believe it or not, but there are still many nagging questions. How did Noah prevent the carnivores from munching on other animals? How did the marine life on the planet survive after salt water mixed with fresh water when the flood happened? When the animals were let off the ark after the water subsided, how did the plant-eating animals survive when the plant life would have been destroyed? And how did so many animals manage to cross oceans in order to populate far-away continents that were surrounded with water?

Other Bible-related questions that have got me wondering for long periods of time include when the Egyptian Pharaoh tangled with Moses. The Pharaoh repeatedly saw acts of God's wrath (there were ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptians!), but he repeatedly wouldn't let Moses and his people go despite all that evidence happening in front of his eyes. I think two plagues at most would convince even the most stubborn person. Then there was the incident after Moses and his people left Egypt, when the Hebrews (when Moses was away getting The Ten Commandments) decided to make the Golden Calf - this despite having seen God's wrath multiple times with the Egyptians. Another part of the Bible that has raised many questions in my mind is with what is supposed to happen in the future with mankind. Thanks to Jack Chick and his wacky tracts, I have a good idea of what's supposed to happen. Among other things that will supposedly happen, there will first be a rapture where The Chosen are sent to heaven, Satan will put forth an anti-Christ who will unite the world and force everyone to wear his mark under pain of death, and when Satan senses the upcoming return of Jesus Christ, he will lead armies into Israel. Pretty heavy stuff, but when I read this description of the last days, I couldn't help but wonder - wouldn't many people see what is coming before it actually happens? With the Bible the best-selling book of all time, wouldn't word spread quickly about what is happening when it starts to happen? And with Satan no doubt knowing all about the Bible, why would he even try his evil scheme when it's been told by God himself that Satan will ultimately fail in his schemes?

I try to keep an open mind about most things. In fact, if some religious person was to try to explain all those questions I put forward in the first two paragraphs of this review, I would certainly listen to him or her. But given that I probably don't have a lot of strict Christians in my readership Years Of The Beastdue to the content of many of the movies I review, it's unlikely that will happen. So I have been left to my own devices to get answers to my Bible questions. Recently, I decided to do something new that might answer part of my Bible questions, specifically the Revelations section. In a Christian thrift store, I found a copy of Years Of The Beast, a movie by Christian filmmakers about the upcoming time of Tribulation. Though I decided to primarily judge it on entertainment, I decided to also judge it by how convincing it was with its look at what will supposedly happen. In the opening of the movie, we are introduced to college professor Stephen Miles (Bayer, Psycho III), who is just wrapping up the teaching of his students for the term. After his final class, some big things happen to him for the next few minutes. He is told he is being laid off, he experiences a couple of mild earthquakes on campus, and his Christian professor friend all of a sudden disappears. He goes home to his wife June (Rader), who suggests they visit her father in the country. Shortly before getting to her father's farm, they meet her father's farmhand Gary (Jerry Houser, Summer Of '42), and once getting to the farm they meet a young lady named Cindy (Sarah Rush, Battlestar Galactica). But all four of them are puzzled when they discover June's father is missing, and June's deceased mother's body has exited from her grave. It takes a while, but Stephen finally realizes they are all in the times of Tribulation prophesized by the Bible. The Rapture has happened, taking the living (and dead) who were faithful to heaven. The Antichrist has risen in Europe, cities are destroyed, and the mean local town Sheriff (James Blendick, Shoot) and his deputies are in league with Satan and his cronies, and they inflict various hardships on the townspeople over the next few months. When the Sheriff eventually brings word that the Antichrist has decreed that everyone must get the mark of the Beast - or suffer the consequences - the now faithful Christian followers Stephen, June, Gary, and Cindy decide to flee into the wilderness with other Christians so that they can keep their faith. But the Sheriff is determined to hunt them down for his Satanic master. Can Stephen, June, and their Christian friends not only keep alive, but keep up their faith for as long as it takes for Jesus to return to Earth?

As you can probably sense from that brief plot description for Years Of The Beast, the movie deals with some heavy topics. Knowing also that the movie was made by Christian filmmakers, one may think before watching the movie that the movie has a lot of bite and impact. Possibly some people who watch the movie might feel that intensity, but I have to confess that in my case at least, I wasn't moved that much by what I saw. Part of the reason comes with the way the whole Tribulation is told. Now, I do think that the idea of showing the whole times of Tribulation by focusing on a few average citizens and having us see the trials through their eyes was a good plan. It would help the average moviegoer to relate better to the events that happen. However, the execution of this plan for this particular movie is woefully lacking. The main fault is that the various characters in the movie are poorly constructed by the screenplay. The character of Stephen eventually converts to Christianity, but we don't really see how he was convinced this was the proper path to follow. All we see of his conversion is a couple of quick moments earlier in the movie when he reads small passages from the Bible. We don't seem him question or discuss with the others what he reads. Speaking of the others, quite often I was asking myself why June, Gary, and Cindy were doing in the movie. They are more often than not given very little to do, and we seldom get a good idea of what's they are thinking of the various unpleasant things they are all experiencing. Needless to say, we never learn how each is eventually won over to the Christian faith. With their various backgrounds, one would think that each of them would provide a substantial contribution one way or another to the movie, but that's simply not the case. Because of the lack of depth to these characters, we in the audience simply can't get involved into their plight. They simply don't remind us of ourselves or the various people we know in our personal lives.

But it's not just with the protagonist characters that the screenplay is lacking in, but also with the various antagonists that make appearances in the movie. The main adversary for the protagonists turns out to be the town Sheriff, and what a disappointing character he turns out to be. It's eventually revealed that he has a direct connection to the satanic forces and is following their orders whether it's punishing food hoarders or killing Christians. But there are nagging questions about this character right from his introduction. How was he convinced to stop his regular law enforcement and change to enforcing the Antichrist's new laws? What does he think he'll get out of this new arrangement? These and other similar questions are never answered. In the end, he's just a guy who acts mean and has no real personality behind his evil acts. That's bad character construction, but there's one character pieced together in an even worse fashion, and that is of the Antichrist. Although he is the evil force behind all the bad things happening to the protagonists, I think he only makes three or so extremely brief appearances in the entire film. He is referred to as "Prime Minister" on several occasions, and stock footage places him in the Satanic country of France, but that's all we learn about him. How did he come out of nowhere to become the leader of the world? What are his eventual plans to manipulate the world for his Satanic master? Who is that figure in religious garb that follows him wherever he goes? How does he at one point survive being shot in the head by an assassin? These and other questions are never answered. To make matters worse, his fate after what happens at the end of the movie is also not revealed. The movie seems to think that everyone watching the movie will already know about what the Bible says about the Antichrist, and will able to fill in the (many) blanks about this character in the movie. Well, I don't know everything about the Antichrist, and I was extremely confused by this character. I'm sure many other viewers will be perplexed as well, even with some who happen to be Christian.

The lack of humanity in Years Of The Beast, as well as a lack of an in-depth look as to how Satan and his forces supposedly work, not only make this movie a doubtful tool for Christians to use to convert non-believers, but also when it comes to entertaining an audience. But there are other flaws that make the movie somewhat of an ordeal whether you are Christian or not. The movie has big problems that I have already mentioned, but I think the biggest flaw found in the entire enterprise is that the whole Tribulation thing comes across as remarkably dull. One reason is that there is surprisingly very little spectacle for a movie about The Last Days. Special effects? A couple of small earthquakes are accomplished by shaking the camera slightly, and a war the Antichrist eventually starts with an unclear enemy is completely depicted with stock footage. Well, there are a few so-so optical effects when the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah city of Seattle (!) is destroyed by fire from the heavens, but that's about it for spectacle. Most of the movie is focused on the lives of Stephen, June, Gary, and Cindy as they live out the time of Tribulation in the country, and it's incredibly boring. For the longest time, they don't seem to be suffering that much with the changes in their lives, and the movie finds their lives so dull that in several places the movie jumps to a point of time that's several months later. Even when they decide to flee to the wilderness to escape the wrath of the sheriff, the movie often has a tough time making their uprooted lives look interesting or exciting. There's one scene, that seems to go on forever, when the sheriff pokes around an abandoned building looking for (but ultimately not finding) the Christians' camp that seems a desperate attempt to add some tension. In the end, Years Of The Beast becomes a movie with no possible audience in mind. Non-Christians will be bored and confused, while Christians will probably find it insulting that such a serious Biblical subject for them is treated in such a shabby manner. One could almost swear that the movie was made by those Satanic forces in order to weaken faith and prevent people properly preparing for The Final Days.

(Posted December 31, 2014)

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