The best way to describe Revival is an immersive experience. Directed by Danny Green and written by Harry Lennix (The Blacklist) and Holly Carter, this modern day retelling of the Gospel of John is energetic and inspired. Think Jesus Christ Superstar but with gospel songs and an all black cast.
The film goes for broke with its unique hybrid production style, utilizing just about every film idiom: broadway musical, animation, narrative feature, and theatrical play. The film starts by being introduced by Harry Lennix, setting the stage and explaining the films interpretation of John’s gospel as a present day ghost story. We are then shown Mali Music as Jesus getting ready in a dressing room, as the camera zooms in on his eye, we are taken back to the beginning of the book of John and see the whole story unfold with song and dance. This meta start to the film is jarring and the constant switching between the mediums throughout the film can be disruptive due to the low budget effects and subpar acting.
The music and singing are what makes this film stand out, thanks to the large cast of accomplished musicians and singers. Led by Grammy nominee Mali Music who plays Jesus and co-stars several other notable gospel and R&B singers, Dawnn Lewis, Chaka Khan, and Destiny’s Child member Michelle Williams among others. When the singers have to shoulder the weight of the acting it gets messy and you can really feel the weight of the films run time. Supporting actors Anthony Azizi as Judas, Kirk Taylor as Cephas and Ahmed Ahmed as Satan in particular stand out and bring a little more balance to the acting side of things.
Unfortunately the overlong run time, low budget green screen effects, and poor acting from most of the cast lessen the impact of the story and make me think that a straight up musical or Broadway run would serve this particular interpretation much better. The music is so well done that you need only be a fan of R&B music to enjoy yourself, although if you are fond of a good gospel tune then I would encourage you to seek this one out.