ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Set during ancient Persia, Esther (Jen Lilley) is an orphaned Jewish woman, living with her adoptive cousin Mordecai (Robert Miano). Following the news of King Xerxes (Joel Smallbone) dissolving his marriage to Queen Vashti (Jennifer Lyons), Esther is chosen, out of many other women, to be the king’s new bride.

Esther’s elevated position in society proves to be of no coincidence to her cousin as he discovers the king’s prime minister Haman (Thaao Penghlis) is plotting to wipe out the Jewish population within the empire. With Mordecai advising her in the background, Esther must decide whether to sit back or step forward to save her fellow Jews, even if that means possibly challenging her king and husband.

To those that may not be familiar with the story of Esther, it’s actually one of my personal favorite stories from the Bible. Even in just spanning only 10 chapters, Esther is far from limited in terms of narrative, touching on themes ranging from hope, perseverance and faith, all centered around one of the most strong-willed women in all of the Bible. Lucky for us, Pure Flix Entertainment was able to take this small yet epic tale of political conspiracy, persecution, with a little dash of romance on the side and condense it down into a 90 minute dollar store film as riveting as it is to be on anti-depressants.

With just a few exotic selections from Bed, Bath & Beyond, you too can put together your own Persian Empire. Even by Sunday school, cardboard cutout sets, bed sheet costumes, play presentation standards, this film is bad.

There’s no denying the presence of Jen Lilley. The woman’s absolutely beautiful and watching interviews of her, you can see she’s a sweetheart. What’s not so sweet is the atrocious dialogue they give her from a script that – well, speaking of Sunday school class – was probably written by toddlers in the nursery right next to it. It’s really hard to imagine how a strong woman like Esther ever came up with the cojones big enough to approach her feared and respected king of a husband when, for the first 30 minutes of the film, she’s whining about how she doesn’t have a husband. Which leads me to believe…

- A woman that attractive and that single is clearly psychotic.

- Her persistent whining should be answer enough as to why she doesn’t have a husband.

- Patience is a virtue, my dear. Even Snow White was reserved enough to admit, “Okay, someday it’ll happen.”

Even worse than Esther’s apparent disarray is her Chatty Cathy town gossip of a friend that when she’s not giving Esther suitor advice, is emasculating her poor husband Jacob. It’s like a Christian version of Sex and the City. I was fairly shocked that as much as she verbally berates and humiliates this man that she didn’t have a mason jar containing the balls of his she snipped off of him. We never do see this Jacob fellow. That’s probably ’cause he’s crying into an open liquor bottle for the entire duration of this film.

Then again, she does reveal to Esther Haman’s devious plot, so maybe that gossip, when she isn’t cracking the whip on sad sack Jacob, is good for something.

By the way, speaking of that feared and respected husband of Esther’s up above, Xerxes here is anything but feared and respected. With a vocal delivery similar to a Kennedy, Joel Smallbone takes a character known for being so feared approaching him without his consent could’ve meant death and makes him as lightweight as a Pomeranian puppy frolicking in a field of marshmallow and dandelions. No wonder Kardashian-esque Queen Vashti feels like she can blow him off like it’s nothing. There are a few moments where Smallbone raises his voice in an attempt to appear so above the law intimidating, but, like that adorable Pomeranian, you just can’t help but tilt your head with such warmth of heart and go, “Awww, isn’t he cute.”

It should be noted that despite Jennifer Lyons hamming up her role as Vashti to record heights, at least she takes it up a notch past the zoned out on Paxil performances from everyone else.

The biggest crime committed here is in the villain Haman. Why they felt the need to give him his own Rent-a-Billy Zane dopey Laurel and Hardy type sidekick, is beyond me. Haman is one of the most devious and narcissistic villains out of the entire Bible, right next to Jezebel, Goliath, flood water and a snake. There’s absolutely nothing sinister in any way, shape or form with Thaao Penghlis’s portrayal. Instead of striking terror in the hearts and minds of the many Jews whose lives he threatened, he just looks more like some pissed off cash register clerk, working the graveyard shift at your nearby 7-11. In fact, between 7-11 Haman and My Little Pony Xerxes F. Kennedy, one must wonder exactly how hard must it have been for Esther to thwart this scheme. According to this film, it should’ve been a walk in the park for her.

Plus, the big climactic reveal of Haman’s true intentions to King Xerxes, a moment that involves Haman – a man who demanded people bow down before him – ironically bowing before Esther and pleading for his life before getting his just deserts by way of a rope around his neck, is handled with such lack of intensity and passion.

For God’s sakes, was this a chore for everyone? At some point during the filmmaking, did anyone blink or smile or have a pulse?

What director David A. R. White has done was strip this film of any sense of urgency or suspense. It’s hard for us to care or feel compelled about this situation at hand when White – like most Christian films – keeps it in “play it safe” mode. Esther was dealing with some pretty high stakes and all of her own people were depending on her, their queen, to be their deliverance. But, we don’t get that. We get cheap, cheap and more cheap filmmaking. If you’re gonna do any story, Biblical or not, set in an ancient sword and sandals type of time period, you either do it right or not at all. That means no sets so cheap I’m surprised I didn’t catch a gaffer in a couple of the shots. This film could’ve been shot in Orlando’s Holy Land Experience and it would’ve seemed more authentic.

Come to think of it, this film could’ve been shot in my living room and it’d still seem more authentic.

I’ve never been able to understand why Christian films are so bad. As a Christian myself, I’d say it’s slightly embarrassing if I didn’t get at least some unintentional amusement out of them. What I don’t get most of all is that if Christians serve a God of excellence how is it possible that the films we get from those children of God are nothing but tawdry crap? Maybe I’m a little harsh. I understand everyone involved here has good intentions, but seriously, if music can be a gift from God, if speaking can be a gift from God, I’d like to think writing a decent 100-120 page script and coughing up a budget larger than whatever you can find in your change purse could be too. For now, I guess we’re stuck with the writers they got – ones giddy to see mommy and daddy magnetize their screenplay next to their color by number school project on the fridge.

What could’ve been an inspiring tale of a woman whose faith and courage earns her a spot next to other gigantic Biblical titans such as David, Joseph, Moses and Joshua ends up being an uneventful film that’s as stale as bread left out on the counter for a month. Ironically, for being a story that’s actually out of the Bible, it’s considerably less preachy than God’s Not Dead. However, what this film may lack in unintentional cheese it certainly makes up for with its “this was filmed at a local church fundraiser with party store props” quality.

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