Film Review: The Encounter: Paradise Lost (2012, dir. David A.R. White)


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Update: I don’t like to change my old reviews because good or bad, they reflect where I was at the time. However, since writing this review, I have been assured by Sean Paul Murphy who wrote and edited the film, that it was not directed by David A.R. White. He has told me that it is a pseudonym, but just not for White. It was a DGA issue. I’m going to take his word for it unless something else comes up, in which case I will obviously update this again.

You may have noticed that I credit this film as being directed by David A.R. White instead of Bobby Smyth as it is listed on IMDb. I have looked at numerous reviews and I can’t find anyone else that seems to have noticed this is an obvious pseudonym for David A.R. White. Let me explain.

David A.R. White is credited as directing the first Encounter movie. Do you really think he would entrust the sequel to someone who has absolutely no other credits to their name?

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Of course he wouldn’t. He would helm it himself, or maybe co-direct it the same way he did with Me Again (2012).

The next bit is the name itself. The last name Smyth sure sounded familiar to me. It should sound familiar if you are a Baptist or have studied religion. John Smyth was one of the founders of the Baptists churches. He is also particularly noted for reconciling with the Mennonites near the end of his life.

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According to the bio for David A.R. White, written by his own company Pure Flix Entertainment on IMDb, he grew up in a small Mennonite farming community outside of Dodge City, Kansas. Also, Smyth is a variation on Smith. The infamous pseudonym used over the years by many people is Alan Smithee.

The Bobby part is probably two-fold. First, it’s not Alan, which would be way too obvious. Second, the real star of this movie is an actor named Robert Miano. Miano has been in numerous Pure Flix films. That’s most likely where he got Bobby from.

Another thing takes us back to the movie Me Again. In that film, Bruce McGill plays a character named Big Earl. Big Earl is an anagram for Gabriel. As in the archangel Gabriel. So this kind of thing is in David A.R. White’s wheelhouse.

Finally, the movie has the same problems as The Encounter as well as another David A.R. White film called Redeemed (2014). It has his signature on this movie, which is especially noticeable because The Encounter and this film had different cinematographers. To me that says the director told them to shoot it this way, which means a common director between the two movies. There are also other little things as well. Unless someone actually called Bobby Smyth turns up, then it’s a pseudonym for who I can only conclude must have been White himself.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the film.

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Before giving us the title card, the movie gives us a little background information on the 2004 tsunami. This is another reason I’m sure it’s a pseudonym. The Mennonite’s have a thing called the Mennonite Central Committee. They responded to the tsunami by sending millions of dollars in aid. That tsunami is sort of a thing in the movie. Kind of. Just a minor plot point, but important enough that it gets a couple of title cards at the start.

Now we have to explain a little more. This is a bit like a Godfrey Ho movie. There is a Movie A and a Movie B that are spliced together. Not clumsily like Ho would do, but it is enough that it really is appropriate to discuss them as if they are two separate films.

Movie A:

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Movie A opens up with DEA Agent Rik Caperna (David A.R. White) showing up in Thailand 7 years after the tsunami hit the region. He is itching to take down a drug kingpin named Bruno Mingarelli (Robert Miano).

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Luckily, he spots him just as he pulls up in his car and Rik calls his boss. Since Bruno isn’t actually holding any suitcases or anything that could be holding drugs, his boss says to hold back. Rik doesn’t like that at all. He is given orders to stay in his car, which is exactly why he leaves his car to follow Bruno.

Now one of the parts that sort of connects the two stories together happens.

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Jesus, played by Bruce Marchiano, appears, looks at Bruno, then disappears. To be honest, it’s a little weird. It’s something you would expect a slasher movie character to do before he finally gets down to the killing. Of course, that is exactly what Jesus is doing here except he is making these brief appearances to allude that Movie B is eventually going to happen.

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Bruno has a bodyguard of sorts named Charlie Doles played by Gary Daniels.

Now we get a strange flashback that isn’t clear it’s a flashback. It’s of a little girl that we will find out later is, or represents, Rik’s sister who died when he was a kid because of drugs. It’s this lousy indication of when something is real or a flashback that was also present in Redeemed, which David A.R. White is explicitly credited as having directed.

Next we meet Bruno’s boss, and guess who?

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It’s Kass Connors here to make barely an appearance just to let you know the Devil is around here somewhere.

Bruno is here to tell him that this will be his last shipment, but soon Rik is spotted outside, and the chase is on.

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These scenes are actually shot reasonably well. Almost as if White is familiar with these kinds of movies so he had an idea of how to shoot these properly. These action oriented outdoor scenes are not a part of Movie B, and weren’t in the first film. Movie B and the first film are all close quarters dialogue heavy films. In other words, films like My Dinner With Andre (1981), Persona (1966), and the dialogue heavy works of Eric Rohmer. Or to put it even simpler, they are foreign films, but shot like they were done by someone who isn’t exactly familiar with those kinds of movies.

Getting back to the story of Movie A now, Rik catches up with Bruno and takes him into custody. One problem, he actually has no evidence whatsoever. As a result, the police show up and let Bruno go. Then Rik flips out, attacks the cops, and is taken into custody himself.

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Now we go to meet Bruno’s drug addicted wife Mimi Mingarelli (Ammy Chanicha). Think of her as the nice girl who picked up the runaway from the first movie, except she’s a drug addict in this one.

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Now we cut back to Rik in jail, and hey Rik!

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Jesus, Man!

Look, if David wasn’t going to put in that priceless one-liner somewhere, than I had too. If you don’t know what that’s from, then here’s The Cinema Snob review of Second Glance (1992), which David A.R. White was in.

Now what you expect happens. By that, I mean Rik is let out of jail by his boss, and immediately goes to see the Devil.

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After passing him a copy of the script for God’s Not Dead (2014), the Devil also gives him a gun and tells him to go after Bruno with his blessing.

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I have no idea how he knew exactly where the Devil was. One minute he’s in jail being told he’s suspended by his boss, then he’s suddenly walking into the conveniently lit with red hallway to the room where the Devil is waiting.

Now the Devil places a call to Charlie telling him to let Rik kill Bruno, then to kill Rik.

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Oh, and Jesus is out there in the ocean standing on the water. You know, as you do. Actually, I am glad they put some of these things in after the first film. I mean you have a character that is literally supposed to be Jesus. Let the man do his thing.

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Rik catches up with Charlie, Bruno, and Mimi. He engages in a gun battle, but is taken hostage. Rik eventually breaks free, and Bruno is killed in the crossfire between Rik and Charlie.

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Rik chases down Charlie and fights him. Rik nearly drowns Charlie to death, but decides not to, and instead bring him in properly so he can be tried for his crimes.

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The last we see of Rik is him sitting on a beach being told by his boss that Bruno kept good records so they are going to be busy for a long time.

Movie A has come to an end. Time for Movie B!

Movie B:

Movie B opens up in 2004 with a black couple and their son Timothy (Steven Clarke). They are kind of like the black couple from the first one in that they are married, black, and the wife will end up wanting a divorce, but that’s really all they have in common with them. The wife wanting a divorce was ambiguous and kind of offensive in the first film. Here, we completely understand. She (Shelley Robertson) has every reason for wanting out of this situation the husband (Rif Hutton) has dug himself into and doesn’t appear to be emerging from anytime soon no matter what she does. The couple runs a resort in Thailand. Now Dad goes to sit down and talk with his son.

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His son spent 4 years in pre-med, then decided to abandon it to become what they call a “doctor of divinity”. It’s kind of a wishy washy honorary theology type degree. The point is, he wants to help people by actually being a Christian and what they are supposed to embody. The father is a little perplexed as I would be myself. That is a lot of work to be tossed aside. Also, being a real medical doctor doesn’t preclude doing what he wants to do. In fact, he could do even more good being an MD that is willing to do things like Doctors Without Borders and Christian type aid programs. However, of course it’s his decision to make. His father seems to respect it even if he doesn’t completely understand it. Sadly, the son is killed by a 24 style countdown and a title card.

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Next we see the father 7 years later ruminating about his son’s death. He also talks to him like he’s there, which he is because this is a Christian movie.

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You can tell by the stink eye his son is giving him that he isn’t too happy with his Dad’s plan here. Neither is his wife happy with his inability to move on instead of not only digging a hole so deep that he’ll never get out but also dragging her into it as well. He is also so far gone that he doesn’t even want to evacuate as a new storm is approaching. That’s when Dad walks out into the water so David can try and fix the gun clip goof from the first Encounter movie.

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In the first Encounter movie Jesus recounts a tale of how he saved the runaway girl from killing herself. He caused her abusive father to stumble so he would take the clip out of the gun he was carrying. The point being that when she picked up the gun it wouldn’t have any bullets in it. The problem was that the father set the clip right next to the gun, but then it disappeared when the camera cut to her coming into the room. That left me saying, “Thanks Jesus, but who moved the clip?” I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed that mistake in the film. This is basically a repeat of that scene except you can see that the red dot is on indicating the safety is off. That isn’t just one quick shot either. They really make sure you get a good look at that gun to make sure you see the dot. It’s also there to build up some tension till Jesus tells him to put down the gun. Think that scene is going to go anywhere? Nope!

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The next thing we see is Rik pulling up in a boat, the father putting the gun in his belt, and then Dad taking Rik away to show him the place. Now the gun battle breaks out and everyone in the story is taken hostage by Bruno and Charlie. That means the drug addicted wife, the married couple, and Rik tied to a chair in a room at the resort. Thus begins the Encounter as Jesus appears outside their window.

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I must be right up front and say that despite the problems in this part of the film, Jesus is way more like Jesus than he was in the first film. In that one he was like someone selling a time share in Heaven or damnation just down the road. That said, let’s take a look at this part.

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Jesus sits down next to the drug addicted wife. Of course he knows everyone’s name. They ask him what his name is and he doesn’t just come right out with Jesus. Again, he’s much more like a kind person in this then in the first movie. He doesn’t immediately dump the Jesus and believe in me stuff on them. He tends to talk to them like he’s just a person there who wants to defuse this otherwise deadly situation. In fact, he doesn’t say his name until he is explicitly asked by Bruno.

In this situation you can think of Charlie as the businessman in the first film. However, as Movie A shows, he isn’t sent to eternal damnation. He is given a chance to pay for his crimes in prison. Much better than the first film in this regard.

The next part that is worth mentioning is when Jesus takes some potshots at Buddhism. Mimi grew up in a monastery before ending up becoming addicted to drugs. She was then bought by Bruno who couldn’t stand seeing her the way she was, but also fell in love with her on sight. I could have done without that. It’s that whole teams thing. It’s not necessary in religion any more than gender. In fact, it’s not needed anywhere, but in sports where we emphasize having good sportsmanship.

She is the first person he tries to help. You can say he preys on her because she’s the weakest point. There’s something to that, but it also makes sense to start with her since she’s the easiest to fix. It also makes sense to start with her because aside from the married couple, the other’s lives revolve around victims like herself. Still, instead of working through her pre-existing religion, he tries to directly contradict it and convert her.

Throughout this there are problems with focus and other camera issues. Here’s an example.

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The camera really doesn’t seem to know where to focus, tries to focus on Jesus after Bruno passes in front of him, then just quickly cuts away. There was a similar shot in the first film where the camera was changing from a background character to one in the foreground, but then just suddenly cut away.

Here’s another example.

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Late in Movie B, Jesus reaches out and takes Rik by the hand. The focus, framing, and who is talking don’t come together properly in the shot. The hand holding is too low to really be a focal point. The focus leaves just about everything out of focus, but the hands. Yet, despite the hands being in focus, Jesus is the one doing the talking and is all blurry. This is the kind of thing that needed some work.

The next major plot point is that we find out the husband did some shady business deals to buy the hotel in the paradise of Thailand. Also, that while the mother never really believed her son was gone forever, he did, and his wife taking comfort in her beliefs drove him to the brink of suicide.

Oh, and then he heals Mimi.

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Again, while Jesus does have his “join me” lines, he really is more like a good psychologist who just wants to help. Can’t tell you how refreshing that was after the first film, which was arduous to sit through, much less write about.

Another problem is that some times the camera spends so much time with a couple of the characters that the suspension of disbelief that all of the actors are actually in the room begins to wear thin. I don’t remember feeling that in the first film. This time around, I kept wondering if David A.R. White as Rik or Gary Daniels as Charlie were even around anymore. You’ll also see this shot…

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several times where the camera pans as if to remind the audience of who is there and the layout of the room. That shouldn’t have had to be done if there was better camerawork that didn’t explicitly need this kind reorientation.

Oh, and just like several other elements are recycled from the first film, we get the equivalent of the two ladies in the bathroom scene. This time around, they are in the kitchen.

Let’s cut to the chase now. Jesus heals Mimi literally. Jesus brings the married couple around. Rik breaks free. Rik tries to shoot Charlie, but Bruno jumps in front of him to die for Charlie’s, or all of their sins if you will. That’s when Jesus opens the imaging chamber door…

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and the two of them leave.

That’s where movie A picks up.

Oh, there is one final bit.

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You didn’t really think you’d get away without some sequel baiting, did you? They did it at the end of the first film too. They are talking about Rik here who is sitting on the beach near them.

My final thoughts on this are that it feels like an aborted experiment. It feels like the movie was supposed to be about Rik and his journey while Jesus and the Devil fight for how he will deal with Bruno and Charlie. All the while, the two of them also fighting for the hearts and minds of Bruno and Charlie. However, for whatever reason, they had to toss that idea out the window after certain footage was already filmed and just go with a far less preachy and contradiction filled version of the first film. Too bad. I might have enjoyed that film better than I did this one. If you must see one of the Encounter films, then this is the better of the two. I doubt we will get another sequel till the God’s Not Dead gravy train ends for Pure Flix. Then they’ll probably take another crack at this franchise.

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