Cashing in on the runaway success of The Leftovers, Left Behind fills in the narrative gap from that series. Whereas The Leftovers covers the tedious goings-on years after a mass disappearance, this film deals with the tedious immediate aftermath. And you know a film is bad when it makes you yearn for the deft writing touch of Damon Lindelof.
This is a straightforward disaster movie, but one with sledgehammer religious overtones. The makers seem to have watched Airplane! and interpreted it not as a disaster movie spoof, but more as a ‘how to’ guide.
Nic Cage plays a pilot with the mandatory Complicated Home Life. Still inexplicably dead sexy to girls despite looking like a melting waxwork of himself from 20 years ago, he’s drifting apart from his bible bashing wife, so he consoles himself by plowing through more air hostesses than Led Zeppelin in the 1970s. Whatever works. He’s even so keen to avoid a family gathering that he leaves his daughter at the airport and makes up a ‘last minute job’ so he can fly to London to see a U2 concert. Now I hate parties as much as the next man but U2? He must be really desperate.
When dealing with big spiritual themes and impending disaster it would be easy to lapse into parody, and this film isn’t going to disappoint. One of the opening scenes sees a woman at the airport pick up a book called ACTS OF GOD and immediately get into a theological debate with Nic’s daughter that even Russell Brand would deem ’a bit 6th form common room’ – ‘If God loves us all so much why doesn’t he STOP these disasters, eh??’ BOOM. Book Cage Jr on Big Questions with Nicky Campbell.
The passengers themselves seem to be flying to an overseas caricature convention because it’s a veritable Noah’s Ark of cinema stereotypes. All human life is here: a Texas oil baron, a needlessly aggressive dwarf, a recovering drug addict and a devout Muslim – yeah, it’s not looking good for you mate. There’s also a blandly hunky and bafflingly well-known news reporter who engages in some tiresome low-level flirting with Nic’s daughter and looks set to be an unwelcome presence throughout the flight. Oh, and Jordin Sparks is onboard too, although when the cabin later depressurises she doesn’t even ask ‘how am I gonna breathe with no aiiiir?’ Seriously. It’s this kind of lazy scriptwriting that’s symptomatic of the film’s malaise as a whole.
Anyway. We’re not far into the flight when disaster strikes. A brief rumble, the lights flicker, and then suddenly there’s going to be a few in-flight meals going uneaten. Panic, and unintentional hilarity, quickly ensues because the disappeared leave their discarded clothing behind, leaving people sobbing uncontrollably over what look like particularly slapdash Blue Harbour displays – I don’t like belted chinos with deck shoes either but I wouldn’t lose my shit over it. It’s the same back at ground level with random disappearances leaving driverless cars crashing (even a good twenty minutes after it happens) and the streets descending into scenes like Black Friday at Asda. Then it’s terror at 30,000 ft because almost immediately the plane starts exhibiting a whole checklist of Random Technical Problems which means they’re going to have to head back and try to crash land. Half Nic’s family may have gone, and he may be about to plunge to his fiery death, but it looks like that U2 concert is off after all. Every cloud, eh?
We’re a good halfway through the film before anybody stumbles to a conclusion about what may have happened because apparently, despite Nic being married to a batshit Christian fundamentalist, and most of the driverless cars having Jesus fish on the bumper, nobody has ever heard of the Rapture. It’s only when the recovering drug addict recalls something about it from church camp years ago that the pieces fall into place – ‘Tell us more!?’, demand the cabin. ‘Oh, I can’t really remember, because, you know…’ *syringe gesture* she replies. Looks like she picked the wrong day to stop doing smack.
By this point anybody still watching will surely be praying for forgiveness because it’s quite parodically bad, right down to the crudely photoshopped family portrait that makes regular appearances. And the moment where Nic lurches to the truth by flicking through a disappeared flight attendant’s diary and seeing the words BIBLE STUDY in block caps is a hall of fame forehead slapper even by his exalted standards. It’s also so oppressively pro-Christianity that it would turn Richard Dawkins to self harm. So at least it’s got that going for it.
Cheaply made, poorly scripted, and risible in every respect, it’s another depressing addition to the bulging Shit Nic canon. At one point the (un-raptured) church pastor says of his sermons ‘I knew all the words but I didn’t believe them.’ And so it goes too for the script in another film where Cage is, quite literally in this case, on autopilot.
TL;DR: biblically awful