Review – Assassin 33 A.D. (2020)

As a minister and film critic, I’ve watched many “Christian” films, but I have yet to see a film like Assassin 33 A.D. Many of the most prominent have come by way of relationship dramas, sports films, or even by following the lives of first-responders, but rarely do we get anything resembling a sci-fi film, let alone one involving time-travel. That idea has puzzled many for centuries, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people think about how time travel could have changed human history by the removal of the most villainous in our past. Still, what if one possessed the power to change history in other ways? What if those who had that power would try to somehow stop the resurrection of Jesus, thereby ending Christianity before it ever even began? What effect would that have on our world? As you can see, the premise of the film is immediately intriguing, and when the opportunity to watch and review the film came about, I knew I wanted to give it a view. So, how was it?

I would say this film is largely successful in what it set out to do. Many Christian movies are largely formulaic, and some people love them exactly for that very reason. On the other hand, I tend to enjoy films that keep me on my toes, and Assassin 33 A.D. continually surprised me. It was unlike any other Christian film I’ve ever seen in about every way I can think. The big ideas posited in the premise are the primary strength here, and the film really gets going about a third of the way through. While not as engaging as what follows, all that precedes that point is necessary setup (that pays off by film’s end). Once the film really gets going, it will get people talking. Any given community has a collection of different churches with differing views on Scripture, so surely there will likely be a variety of takes with this film, good and bad. Some may even take serious issue with situations and actions taken in the film. Still, I appreciated the filmmakers for trying something different, because rarely do we see that in this market. I avoid spoilers entirely in my reviews, but it is safe to say that much discussion will definitely follow this film for all who watch it. To me, that’s always an incredible strength for any film.

As my regular readers know, I tend to review the largest of blockbusters with astronomical budgets. Assassin 33 A.D. comes from the avenue of independent filmmaking. I don’t know the funding the filmmakers had at their disposal, but I have to say I was very impressed by this production throughout. None of the effects took me out of the ongoing plot, and I actually found most to get the job done. Science-fiction is never inexpensive to do effectively on film or television, and seeing how major portions of this are a period piece, I think the filmmakers can be proud of the finished product. I could immediately see that they were going for something different than we normally see in the Christian market, and that goes beyond the premise. The collision of Holy Land antiquity with sci-fi trappings and modern technology kept me interested. As a result, the film stands out, as director Jim Carroll shot a film that is visually interesting, much more so than many other Christian films.

While much attempted was done right, the film isn’t without some problems. While it never pulled me out of the film, the humor was admittedly hit or miss with moments that got close to doing so. The pacing was inconsistent, but with so many events going on simultaneously, that may have been inevitable. Even though I clearly understood the film’s villains to be fully radicalized, in today’s political climate, I could see many taking issue with the very idea of the villains being Muslim. With the villains and heroes, the motivations of characters may be more simplistic than some viewers are willing to forgive. The amount of violence is not something I would ordinarily expect from a film centered on Christ, but as I said, the premise lets us know to expect the unexpected. That said, I wouldn’t recommend anyone younger than the rating suggests. Beyond the violence, the premise is something that smaller children wouldn’t likely be able to follow, as the multiple timelines at work demand your full attention.

Upon watching this film I was reminded of Judgement House, which I have frequented for many years. The aim of their presentation paralleled much with what I saw in Assassin 33 A.D.: various individuals with various ideas of Jesus being confronted with the reality of who He is and what He means to them. While the presentation of those themes is usually handled there simplistically, it is the questions it raises within the audience that are most important. The best thing about this film will be what viewers talk about after it’s over; hopefully, there will be those who see the need for forgiveness in their own lives and exhibited to those around them.

Overall, while some might find fault with aspects of the film, I commend the makers of Assassin 33 A.D. for trying something different than anything else I can remember in the Christian film market. Its execution of the premise and even attempting to do so in the first place made up for most quibbles I had and made it a film worth watching to me. I hope this film will inspire others (and the makers of this film) to further the cross-section of science-fiction and faith, as there are many more avenues the genre will allow for faith-based films. The best takeaway I have is that it may at least get people thinking about Jesus that might not give Him thought otherwise. As the film shows, God is in control beyond what we know or think possible, even when we don’t see His hand at work, and if He can use a film like this to spark a turn towards Him, then there’s no higher praise I can give.

For more information on the film, visit Assassin33AD.com.

*** Appreciation to the filmmakers for the digital screener. ***

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