If there are any Christian filmmakers out there who read this blog and are thinking of making a historically based film, please contact me. While recently scouring the various streaming services to which I subscribe, I came across a little film called Beyond the Mask (2015). I suppose because of all the history related material I watch, Amazon Prime suggested this film to me. When I landed on it, I gave the synopsis a cursory once over and dove in. Yikes.
Beyond the Mask is a strange mash-up of history and Christian themes. Not that those two things cannot go together. Indeed, they do well. But not in this film. In the opening scene we meet the film’s “hero,” William Reynolds (Andrew Cheney), who is an agent of the East India Company. He is on a mission for the head of the very real early corporation, Charles Kemp (John Rhys-Davies), who is seeking to cover his shady dealings in order to influence the English parliament in his favor. Reynolds is to slip in some papers to make everything look above board, while making off with the real ones. Upon returning from a successful trip, Kemp decides to swindle Reynolds out of his earnings and attempts to kill his former servant . . . because Kemp is bad, and greedy, and just mean. Reynolds barely manages to escape with his life, and takes up the identity of a preacher who happens by and helps save his life (at the cost of his own). Stumbling into a nearby village, he decides to take up the preacher’s guise for a time despite knowing nothing of God or how to deliver a proper sermon. In this ruse he meets and falls in love with Charlotte Holloway (Kara Killmer). They genuinely like each other, but there is something about him that she cannot place. Her misgivings are given a name when Reynolds’ past catches up to him in the form of a visit by Charlotte’s uncle, (tell me if you guessed it) Kemp. Charlotte ends up traveling to Philadelphia with her uncle, and Reynolds eventually follows, desiring to make himself worthy of her. Because this movie is what it is, the first place where Reynolds ends up is in the printshop of Benjamin Franklin (Alan Madlane). From there, Reynolds begins to become involved in the Patriot cause, but behind the mask of the Highwayman, a sort of vigilante who is also there to attempt to foil the plans of the East India Company. Eventually Reynolds comes clean to Charlotte, but not before they uncover a plan by Kemp to, get this, blow up Philadelphia using electricity sent through cables to detonate explosives remotely. This is all, of course, to happen on July 4, 1776. But Reynolds is able to rescue Charlotte and stop Kemp from carrying out his act of terrorism.
In the world of Beyond the Mask, electricity is being sent through cables a good seventy years before the invention of telegraphs, and a little over a century before electricity is sent anywhere. We all know of Franklin’s experiments with lightning, and people certainly knew about electricity in the eighteenth century, even how to generate it. But not at this level. If I felt like laughing these days, I would have been rolling around on the ground in hysterics. As the credits were about to roll, there was this strange series of historical facts that I am guessing were put there to lend the movie a little more credence. One of these was about a windmill that was demolished near Philadelphia in the 1840s that had a sunken ship at its base under the water. This is the setting for where Kemp attempts to use electric currents to destroy the City of Brotherly Love. But I promise you when they uncovered this place in the 1840s, they did not find a bunch of “electric equipment” from the eighteenth century there, or an elevator. Yes, there is a powered elevator in this movie. There are a few other historical tidbits that were, to put it plainly, ridiculous. But mainly it was this film’s use of electricity that left me scratching my head.
However, Beyond the Mask was not all ridiculous. Reynolds has a definable character arc, and the mechanism that triggers the change in him is Christianity. When he shows up to take the place of the fallen preacher, he did not know God. In many respects, this is what Charlotte reacts to when at first she is hesitant to accept Reynolds’ marriage proposal. She could tell that there was something false about him. This hesitancy on her part is revealed when they meet again in Philadelphia and she tells him how important is her relationship with God. Initially, he does not know what to say as he feels far from God because of his past sins. It is after being captured, though, that he learns of the redemption Jesus bought for all of us on the Cross that Reynolds comes to understand God’s love. It is through this prism that he is able to truly be the kind of person worthy of Charlotte. Oh, and well done in not wanting to take revenge on Kemp.
I do not know what to make of Beyond the Mask, whether to recommend it or to tell it off. I want to like it more because of the Christian themes, but the other elements are just awful. There is nothing overly violent, and there are no sex scenes. Reynolds and Charlotte barely kiss. Nonetheless, plot convenience equals movie suck, and that is the most glaring problem. I applaud the filmmakers for what they were trying to accomplish. Nonetheless, a little more forethought could have made for a more interesting movie experience, for this reviewer anyway.