Powerful, brutal and as subtle as a smack in the face, The Passion Of The Christ may be the most relentless horror film since The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is certainly more violent. Tracing the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus (Jim Caviezel), director Mel Gibson shows the crucifixion of the Christ, the soul-saving sacrifice of the son of God. But the message of love is almost drowned by blood. And in focusing on a gospel of gore rather than grace, Gibson allows Jesus to die without showing us how to live.
The film reminds us of what Jesus went through and serves as a cinematic version of the Stations Of The Cross (the pictures portraying the final stages of Christ's life, which are used to prompt meditation and prayer in some, mostly Catholic, churches). But the flashbacks to the time before Jesus' trial and execution are so brief they may bewilder some viewers.
"IT IS JESUS CHRIST: SPLATTERSTAR"
How was it that this carpenter-cum-preacher so riled the religious leaders of 1st century Jerusalem that they decided to do him in? Arguably as much because he was a revolutionary, anti-hypocrisy, anti-greed figure than because of blasphemy, which is the sole reason provided here for the Jewish establishment's hatred of him. It's a shame the film is so basic, so interested in portraying pain to the exclusion of virtually everything else. It is Jesus Christ: Splatterstar, with seemingly endless slow-motion shots of Jesus falling under the weight of his cross, or being beaten bloody and whipped raw by Roman soldiers.
The simplification is especially irritating given the time spent on unnecessary additions to the biblical story, including scenes of Judas being tormented by demonic children; an androgynous Satan tempting Christ; a raven pecking out the eye of a thief dying beside him.
Considering the film's claims to authenticity - which includes dialogue in two dead (well, rather frail) languages, Aramaic and Latin - the embellishments are unfortunate, adding to the impression that as beautifully shot and well-acted as it is, The Passion is a high-gloss exploitation picture, obsessed with the Death Jesus conquered, rather than the Life he gave - and gives.
In Aramaic and Latin, with English subtitles.