Movie Review — “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise”


The charms of “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise,” essentially a tour documentary about a big pop band created by an Australian megachurch, plum evaded me.

Meandering, stream-of-Biblical consciousness tunes, all under-written and over-produced pop pablum, performed by bearded, ripped-jeans wearing 30something white Aussie hipsters? Who wants to hear that? Or see the (labored, but not inspired) music in the process of creation?

Many do, apparently. They don’t play to empty houses.

The youth ministry group Hillsong provides subtitles with the lyrics, not just for the film, but on stage as well. They’re the sort of tunes one forgets before first hearing — generic, wussy chords, murky sound mixes that don’t seem to capture half of the instruments we can see members “playing” on stage.

No, kids. Raising your hands to the sky doesn’t make the songs better. It just signals your audience to grade you on the Christian curve.

It’s a musical ministry that has toured the world, a dozen or so musicians “with purpose, with a calling.”

They’re a “family ministry” (lots of people with the same last name, like any family business). Group members declare “You don’t work for a church to earn money…It’s not worth what we’re being paid, but it’s worth what we’re doing.”

They’re looking for converts, or actually to revive the already converted, with their tunes about the one “seated on high, the Undefeated One…There is no other name — Jesus Christ, Our God.”

You don’t have to question their sincerity — their back stories, families separated for months at a time during tours, the baby born with a heart murmur, the worship leader whose sister killed herself — to roll your eyes at these wimpy, flat shimmering piles of notes they call songs. Michael John Warren’s film renders the stage productions honestly, the tunes open to lyrical mockery and the band itself whiter-than-whitewashed, duller than dull.

“The songs mean nothing if they don’t help people connect with God,” one member — and really, aside from Taya Smith, they all blandly blend into one — proclaims. So the tunes, pieced together on smart phones and then vetted by their ministry for Biblical rectitude, aren’t necessarily meant to be chart-topping singles. Still, the film reveals a creative process that is short on…something.

“I’m trying to find the words, but it’s like, ‘Jesus, please, now!'”

Let’s not blame Jesus for bad poetry.

They’re passable singers, but nobody who could cut the mustard on Broadway or “Australian Idol.”

They say their biggest worry, in between facing enraptured True Believer crowds in famous venues all over the world (Red Rocks, the LA Forum) is “being underwhelming.”

Are you ready for some bad news, kids?


MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements

Cast: Jad Gillies, Taya Smith, Matt Crocker, Michael Guy Chislet, Brian Houston, Bobbie Houston, Joel Houston, Dylan Thomas
Credits: Directed by Michael John Warren. A Pureflix release.

Running time: 1:49

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Movie Review — “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise”

  1. Matt says:

    I respect many opinions and a plausible review should be accepted whether it is good or bad and regardless of personal opinions or beliefs but , Mr. Moore, this review seems very personal and lacks a great amount of professionalism. It almost seems like you have something against this group or even against religion all together. Someone who reviews a movie should be unbiased and should look at how the story progresses and if the story can captivate audiences. You simply criticized the song writing (I’d like to see you write a song), the color of their skin (Jad Gillies is white?), and the members of the group personally. At no point do you mention the plot of the movie, the build up, the climax, the overall audience reaction. Are you a movie reviewer or a music reviewer? Your pen (or typewriter) has great power, stop using it to advertise your own personal agenda and give an honest review of what you saw in a movie theater.

    • Do you have some specific point of critical attack you take issue with? I endorse faith-based films all the time. This “family business” megachurch’s music is under-digested drivel and drove me mad with its laziness and poetic ineptitude, the wimpy soundmixes, the works. Perhaps you need to head to the library, check out a weathered Beatles CD, or Randy Newman or heck, Rodgers & Hart, listen to what well-crafted tunes sound like and read poetry that isn’t “If we say ‘Jesus God’ enough times, raise our hands skyward, then meter, rhyme and simple phrasing that makes SENSE won’t matter to our undiscriminating fans.” That apparently would be you.

  2. Monique says:

    You need jesus.

  3. Anon says:

    I loved the movie you just hating

  4. I appreciate this review. However, I think something a lot of reviewers are overlooking in criticizing the music itself as being boring is that worship is not meant to impress. We worship with our often cheesy, cliche sounding lyrics to sing praises to God, not to necessarily make people say “wow, this song was so well written, it’s so amazing.” Sure, worship songs that are very well written are fantastic, but that’s not the point. In fact, worship bands that try too hard to be impressive often overlook the core of what worship is about – praising God together. Some of the most brilliant worship times I’ve been a part of were in my student ministry, led by one guy whose singing isn’t the best and his guitar and another guy on the cajon. We don’t raise our hands to the sky the “make the songs better,” but because we feel a connection to the Lord. In the end, Worship is about Him and not us and whether our songs have the most poetic, impressive lyrics.
    Anyway, I’m not trying to say you’re wrong because obviously you’re allowed to have your own opinion. Anything anyone puts out there for the world to see will be faced with different opinions, and I always appreciate seeing those that differ from mine. I’ve never really thought about how non-Christians might view our worship songs, and it was definitely interesting to see your perspective! 🙂

    • Sorry, when you say, on camera, is you’re worried about “being underwhelming,” then you are de facto trying to dazzle/impress.
      And they didn’t. And don’t.

  5. Tim says:

    Good honest review. In the very first sentence you say that the whole thing “just evades me”. I wonder why they sing about Jesus like that?.

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