Film reviews and more since 2009

Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot (2024) review

Dir. Joshua Weigel

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

Of all the “based on” or “inspired by a true story” tales movie studios love to tell us each year, few are as genuinely wholesome as what happened in Possum Trot, Texas in the 1990s. The residents in a small unincorporated community comprised mostly of working-class African-Americans, inspired by the gospel of a local Baptist church, took it upon themselves to adopt children stuck in the foster care system. They adopted several “high-risk” youths in such volumes that there were no children left without placement for 100 miles. Today, most of those children are alive and well, living fruitful lives and raising families of their own in/around Possum Trot.

Following their alarm-bell-ringing screed against sex trafficking last year, Angel Studios returns this Fourth of July weekend with Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot — sidenote: the film was simply to be called “Possum Trot” up until very recently, or more accurately, when Angel probably figured they’d have a chance at more money making it appear as a spiritual sequel to Sound of Freedom. In contrast to a film its lead actor actually said would have the potential to be Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the modern era, Sound of Hope is a significantly more measured work. When it rises above the mawkish tendencies of modern Christian cinema is when it tells a deeply human story about individuals who are striving to be morally good members of their family and society whilst working hard for what little they have.

Most members of this tight-knit East Texas town meet and congregate at a Baptist church led by W.C. Martin (Demetrius Grosse), a charismatic reverend married to his “First Lady” Donna (Nika King). Struggling to keep up with bills and two children, including one who is disabled, Donna hears God tell her that she needs to further her life’s purpose and look to adopt children. Is God going to provide a stimulus check to make it possible? One can pray, I suppose.

Donna is persistent, and upon convincing her husband, the two pay a visit to Susan Ramsey (Elizabeth Mitchell), a state caseworker who is struggling not only to help the many children stuck in Texas’ foster system but with the images of the abused and neglected that are seared into her mind. The most at-risk child, Susan says, is Terri (Diaana Babnicova), a traumatized teen the couple takes in after adopting two younger siblings. Terri’s coping mechanism is pretending to be a cat, a move director/co-writer Joshua Weigel initially plays for laughs, but later uses such scenes to penetrate how Terri is in need of real psychological assistance.

The Martins share their story at the local church, and soon, the residents of Possum Trot take in a total of 77 kids, emptying out all area foster homes. Their altruism isn’t met without plight, which screenwriters Weigel and his wife, Rebekah, dutifully detail in several scenes that show Terri succumbing to a panic attack, the Martins’ adopted siblings coming to grips with their own PTSD, and at one point, Donna crashing to her knees, begging her Lord and Savior for some, any, kind of guidance.

There’s a fairness in the way the Weigels treat adoption. For a film this ardent in its messaging, it doesn’t hesitate to show the financial and mental strain such a move can have on a family. Sean Johnson’s score lays it on thick, too thick, with emotionally manipulative music coupled with long takes that have a firm focus on the weathered, tear-stained faces of its protagonists. This can get exhausting, especially considering how much ground this movie covers in over two hours. In some ways, the messiness is part of the story in itself.

The film’s biggest fault is its overreliance on Donna’s narration. Thankfully, it lessens in the second act, but Sound of Hope too frequently interrupts the narrative for one of its primary characters to monologue about her Christian values and other feelings we should’ve been shown, not told. This is a cast anchored by several strong performances, most notably Diaana Babnicova, who takes a challenging part and instills it with a great deal of heart and humanity through several displays of emotion.

Some might harp on the fact that this is now the second (or third, if you count this year’s Sight) film from Angel Studios to profile the misery and suffering of children in explicit detail. The “misery porn” allegations are starting to fly, and to be frank, I see where people are coming from. However, as someone who has sat through probably over 100 films of this ilk over the last decade, there is some admiration on my behalf that Christian cinema is finally looking at the ugly side of reality, no longer (exclusively) lingering on sun-soaked suffering with characters donning enough makeup to keep things pretty and digestible. The early scenes of child abuse are raw and real, serving the story as a result.

I’ve been vocally critical of Angel Studios’ attempt to end each and every one of their films by having its actors or real-life subjects grovel for audience members to shell out money for movie tickets so others can be inspired by their project. It comes across as an insincere grift after one just spend their own hard-earned dollars to watch a film, not be sold on a studio’s self-indulgence. That said, Sound of Hope at least lets the real W.C. and Donna take the reins and promote adoption advocacies and outlets following a brief plea for tickets to be bought and sold. The Angel Guild have seemingly found a balance. It’s at this point, with footing firm and ground established, I suspect we’ll see where their true heart and intentions lie with future projects.

Starring: Demetrius Grosse, Nika King, Diaana Banicova, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Joshua Weigel. Directed by: Joshua Weigel.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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