Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is a hodgepodge of concert footage”

by Steve Pulaski

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise probably would’ve been at least more of a spiritual event had it opened during its originally intended release date of Easter weekend 2015. But a few delays and a studio bankruptcy later, it was left in limbo until it was picked up by the great savior of Pure Flix Entertainment, which has distributed nearly every faith-based film of the last few years from God’s Not Dead to Woodlawn to next month’s Columbine-inspired I’m Not Ashamed. I foresee a lot of empty theaters during its theatrical run in America, wasting the film’s concept of having the audience actively participate as the film moves onto them.

In a way, its unorthodox release is a fitting metaphor for the band in which the documentary itself is based on. The Australian-based Hillsong United, which formed in 1998, about a decade after the Hillsong Church’s inception in 1983 as practically a one-hundred member community worship meeting, has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, whether it be in the bandmembers’ personal lives or just in trying to make a living off of reaching the lives of many. Despite ministering to thousands of individuals through their dazzling concerts, each member of the band faces their own financial woes, but continue to fight to reach those who are in need of God’s healing.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise
Directed by
Michael John Warren
Michael Guy Chislett, Matt Crocker, Adam Crosariol
Release Date
16 September 2016
Steve’s Grade: D+

Such persistence is admirable. Such a documentary is not. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is a hodgepodge of concert footage from select shows everywhere from Australia to the States intercut with behind-the-scenes footage of the individual members of Hillsong United. Some we see at great length are Jonathon “JD” Douglas carry his quirky energy throughout the band in order to give them all a vote of confidence, Taya Smith, the only female member of the band, pour her heart into her solos and surrender to God by throwing her arms in the air during and after nearly every song, and Joel Houston, the band’s tireless songwriter who tries to put his all into his music and make sure his audience feels and connects with the music.

Judging by the consistent crowd reactions, Houston could theoretically compose his songs of rudimentary chants such as “God is great, Jesus is Lord” and set them to generic but infectious guitar riffs and his audience would likely still throw their arms up and scream “hallelujah.”

I don’t mean to shortchange the obvious work and energy that Hillsong United evidently pours into their music, but despite all that we hear about how Houston and company try to craft relatable lyricism of stated “Christian taboos” like flaws and imperfections, I fail to see what sets their song’s messages apart from traditional Christian rock songwriting. If their humanity, sympathy, and themes of the imperfect person should be praised – even in the context of Christian doctrine – than that’s a pretty lowly excuse to praise songs that have the purpose of connecting and resonating with people on a deeply emotional level. Their music comes across as the same kind of inspired but bland renditions of drab Christian messages of faith, forgiveness, and acceptance that eventually circumvent into muchness.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, as a whole, feels the same way. Sloppy in structure, with concert sequences that fail to captive, it all feels overcooked in the way that if you already know and love Hillsong United, you’ll appreciate what the film tries to do, but if you don’t, this film won’t do a very good job convincing you nor selling you their product. Not to mention, at the end of it all, one can’t help but feel that the whole Hillsong approach, while pleasantly contemporary and a key instrument in getting the younger generation in-tuned with Christianity, continues to neglect the real aspect of ministry and being saved in the same way the televangelists gloss over that in hopes to get your almighty dollar.