In The Masked Saint, pastor Chris Samuels as The Saint must defeat The Reaper to raise enough money to save his church Photo courtesy of P3 Entertainment

A masked warrior of God

  • January 9, 2016

Move over Batman and Daredevil. Here comes the Masked Saint.

After winning Best Picture at the 2015 International Christian Film Festival, The Masked Saint is being released commercially as the first entirely Canadian-made faith film. The newest superhero hits theatres nationwide on Jan. 15.

The film is loosely based on a real-life story. Its hero, Chris Samuels, is a former professional wrestler who left the ring to answer a call to become the pastor of a struggling church. But the man of God never loses his fighter instinct. Coming upon a mugging in progress one night, the fictional character uses his wrestling skills to pin the thug. The masked vigilante hero is born.

Producer Cliff McDowell shot the film in his hometown Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., which allowed him to give several friends and family small roles in the production. There is also no shortage of established Canadian talent in the film, starting with lead actor and co-screenwriter Brett Granstaff (who appeared in “Set Up” and “Vice”), Lara Jean Chorostecki (“Hannibal” and “Copper”) and Diahann Carroll (“White Collar” and “Dynasty”).

McDowell was drawn to the story by the lead character’s sense of righteousness.

“A lot of similarities in his life were the same in mine, that’s why I really liked the project,” he said. “Just whenever there is injustice done to other people who can’t defend themselves and how he would stand up with no fear.”

The film is an interesting look at the struggle between good and evil in the world, but also within our inner selves. With the rowdy backdrop of the professional wrestling world, the Christian film is definitely unique.

It is based on a 2009 novel of the same name written by Chris Whaley, who left the wrestling ring to become a pastor. The main character is based on the life experience of Whaley, who wrestled professionally in Florida in the 1980s under the nickname “The Saint.” He quit wrestling in 1988 to study theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and, in 2000, became pastor at First Baptist Church in Longwood, Florida.

“Professional wrestling is really a story of good versus evil,” said Whaley. “The definition of righteous indignation is to be upset at those things that would upset God.

“I think too many times we sit on our hands and do nothing. If anyone should be doing the right thing, it should be Christians.”

He admits that is the reason why the book was so easy for him to write. Though he is not a masked vigilante himself, he says he is not one to stand by if he witnesses someone being mistreated.

“I don’t think the average pastor would handle the situation in that way, but there are some people in this world, I think the only thing they understand is the physical part of it,” said Whaley.

From the time the book was published, Whaley hoped to turn it into a film or television series. He knew that the story lent itself to action scenes inside and outside the ring. But it was years until the story fell into the lap of McDowell.

Like Whaley, his screen persona is tough and willful, but it was important for Whaley that Samuels not be perfect. As bills for church repairs mounted, the stress of pastoral life causes the pastor to escape into his late-night vigilante crusades to clean up his town. He neglects his duties at church and at home with his family.

The film excels most, however, when it shifts to the action-packed world of wrestling. Pro wrestling fans will be excited to see former WWF wrestler Roddy Piper, who died last June, in his last acting role as Nicky Stone, Samuel’s mentor and manager. Though lead actor Granstaff trained to do much of his own stunt work, McDowell said most of the credit goes to pro wrestling consultant Jimmy Noonan, who worked with Whaley to recreate many of his signature moves for the film.

“The wrestling in the movie is great,” said Whaley. “Many professional wrestlers are going to be pretty happy with what they see.”

When the film is not immersing the audience into the world of pro wrestling, the action is staggered with some funny moments. It’s no surprise to find “The Red Green Show” veteran Patrick McKenna providing comic relief. He plays overbearing parishioner Judd Lumpkin who enjoys seeing the new pastor struggle in his new role.

Overall, the film is a good first success that will hopefully inspire the Canadian film industry to delve into faith-based stories. McDowell, who is founder of P3 Entertainment production company, is already hinting at both a sequel and a prequel to The Masked Saint.

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