AstonishingTrailer from James Ristas on Vimeo.
Yeah, I'll admit it, I was pretty on the fence when thinking of a personal rating for this film. It's a tough watch for most of the first act but does continue to get better as the movie progresses. The final act, obviously, is actually pretty decent. I'll also admit I'm definitely not a fan of the style. "The Astonishing" plays like a film dug up from some 1920s or 1930s archive - but at the same time doesn't feel all that authentic. I'm one of those people who believe stylistic films meant to imitate an era of inferior technology - just don't make much sense. Film back then looked the way it did because, for the time, they had no choice. That look was cutting edge. If a person could travel back in time and bring modern filmmaking tech with them, no movie maker of that era would even consider using that day's technology. The old-style look and sound was by necessity, not choice.
With that said, sometimes a film does work using a gimmicky old school technique. Sometimes that very vibe is what brings a mediocre film to the next level. What I can say is that at first, "The Astonishing" is a very hard watch - but by the end, that old school look did end up improving the narrative. For this film, it definitely worked and that extra special bit of color at the end was brilliant. For those able to stick around into the second act and beyond, "The Astonishing" is, actually, a pretty decent movie.
"The Astonishing" begins with three sisters living in borderline squalor on their farm, which they plan to sell off to the church and secure some security in their lives - in the form of a convent, however, Christina would have to make her own way. Left to her own devices. As the deal is about to unfold and through no fault of her own, Christina finds herself in a religiously appalling situation. It's after this that she has her vision and thus her legendary journey begins. "The Astonishing" is based on the life of Christina Mirabilis, the patron saint. Ristas's film is very much religion-based, old school, perhaps explaining why the old school look and style seem to enhance the story.
Other than the stylistic choices, there are some other issues with "The Astonishing" that stood out. The acting is one such issue, but much of my concerns may not be the acting at all. This film is overdubbed, and that fact is clear as day. A lot of the audio simply doesn't feel right, doesn't blend well. It's hard to tell what could have been a less than perfect performance, or an ADR issue. Christina herself is actually played quite well later on, the re-recorded dialog doesn't seem to hit her as much - but some of the others just felt over or under dramatic from time to time. Never to the point of groaning out loud, but noticed none the less.
Aside from that, there's some funky usage of transitions later and a very uneven overall edit. The pacing of this movie is up and down and everywhere - mixed in with the visual look and some shaky camera work peppered throughout, it can be quite challenging to stay focused. More during the first half I should mention. And yet, there's still something here I really enjoyed. Despite everything - this was still an entertaining film.
So, here it is reader, my final thoughts for your consideration. At the end of the day "The Astonishing" only requires one thing in order to enjoy the ride. A little patience during the first bit of the film. Once that first act is in the bag, things just get better and better. My real concern is that the casual viewer simply won't have that patience or foreknowledge to stick around. The truth is that this film will probably never retain their attention long enough, to find out themselves this is actually a pretty good flick. But for those willing to stick around, "The Astonishing" may not be the next Oscar contender, but well worth the 70 or so minutes. Three stars out of five.