‘Hillsong: Let Hope Rise’: Film Review

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Andy Barron
This bland concert doc is unlikely to win the band any converts.

Michael John Warren’s documentary profiles the hugely successful Christian rock band Hillsong United.

The opening intertitle of Hillspring: Let Hope Rise informs the viewer, “This film is intended as a theatrical worship experience.” If that doesn’t get you excited, then Michael John Warren’s documentary profiling the Christian rock band Hillsong United isn’t for you.

Those who haven’t heard of the band must not have been paying attention to this particular music genre. An offshoot of Hillsong Church, an Australian megachurch founded in 1983 that now has some 75,000 members in 12 countries, it sells out arenas throughout the world.

The filmmaker — whose previous credits include documentaries about such performers as Jay Z, Nicki Minaj and Drake — has taken a very neutral approach to his subject matter, one that is unlikely to win any converts to the band. Warren includes copious concert footage, complete with onscreen lyrics so the faithful can sing along, and a series of bland interviews with several of the dozen or so members, as well as the church’s founder, Brian Houston.

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“We’re the biggest band you’ve never heard of,” one of them comments, although the statement is true only for the uninitiated. And for any such soul who wanders into the wrong multiplex auditorium by mistake, the film makes a poor introduction. It provides only scant background information and no deep insights about the musicians, other than that they seem like very nice people who apparently perform more for the love of church than money. The point is made several times that, despite the band’s blockbuster status, its members live simply and struggle financially. For instance, Jonathan Douglass, the percussionist (excuse me, “worship leader,” as the musicians are called), resides with his wife and children at his in-law’s house.

The interviews, filmed on what looks like the vacant floor of an office building, never rise above the level of religious platitudes, even when the musicians are talking about such personal issues as a baby born with a potentially fatal heart condition or the suicide of a teenage sibling. When a potentially controversial subject comes up, such as church founder Houston referring to his father having been found guilty of sexual abuse, the filmmaker leaves it unexplored.

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As with most music documentaries of this type, Warren does attempt to inject a modicum of drama into the proceedings. Here, it involves the band’s preparations for a concert at the Forum in Los Angeles, with frontman Joel Houston (Brian’s son) seen agonizing over the lyrics for several new songs. The results teem with clichés, but judging by the thrilled audience members seen in the concert footage, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Distributor: Pure Flix Entertainment
Production companies: Cantinas Entertainment, Grace Hill Media, MediaWeaver Entertainment
Director: Michael John Warren
Producers: Jonathan Bock, Ben Field, Matt Weaver
Executive producers: Greg Campbell, Phil Cooke, Ted Gartner, B. Wayne Hughes Jr., Walter Matteson
Director of photography: Cameron Glendenning
Editor: E.A. Bishop

Rated PG, 103 minutes

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