Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
"...hits its intended mark and provides a great escape for families searching for something inspiring to pop in the DVD player on a Friday night."
A modern-day Christian western, Set Apart tells the story of four troubled kids given the chance to escape urban LA for a few weeks to learn about horses and God. Anthony’s a pre-teen whose gangbanger brother Marcus is trying to keep him from following in his footsteps. Rey’s a wannabe thief desperate to fit in with the cool guys. Korina has nowhere to go after finding her mother dead. All four teens are on the brink of making pivotal choices that could ruin their lives. Some would call them lost causes. But not John and Michele Gunn (played by John Schneider and Jennifer O’Neill), founders of the inner city outreach The Power Company Kids Club. They’re determined these four kids should have the chance to turn their lives around. Calling on his brother and sister-in-law, Randy and Heidi Gunn, John paves the way for the kids to travel with Randy and Heidi (who play themselves) to their Western ranch. The city-slicker kids have no idea what’s in store for them. From mucking horse stalls to learning how to ride, their perspectives change drastically when face to face with God’s creation. But when a mistake from the past comes back to haunt, will they choose what’s right or fall back into their old ways?
It’s a premise parents and kids alike can embrace. But what sets this movie apart is that the organizations featured in the storyline, The Power Company Kids Club and Gunn Point Music and Ministries are real, not fictional. Brad Wilson of Hemisphere Productions was looking for faith-based film ideas when he saw the GunnPoint band perform at a festival. His wheels started turning, and things clicked from there.
With a powerful message of pursuing dreams and putting the past behind us, Set Apart will please those looking for clean entertainment to share with their children. It’s only fair to compare apples to apples, and for a low budget flick this one is at the head of the pack. The cinematography is beautiful, the colors rich, and plenty of humor is intertwined serious themes. There’s actually a running joke where one of the kids starts to swear, but each time has to make up a word that sounds like the one he really wanted to say.
However, in its effort to appeal to families Set Apart might be overlooking the teen audience. Urban LA’s grittiness is definitely touched on as Anthony and Marcus end up in a fight with some gang members, and Karina is pressured to become a prostitute. But it could’ve been taken a step further, and perhaps would’ve created an even more powerful film, if an edgier and more realistic picture of the kids’s lives (ala The Ride or Something to Sing About) had been painted. It’s hard to imagine today’s jaded teens buying the final portrayal.
The limited roles of John Schneider and Jennifer O’Neill are slightly disappointing. Even though they’ve received top billing, they only appear in the beginning third of the movie (and briefly at the end). Randy and Heidi Gunn are the real stars of Set Apart. For untrained actors they pull off their scenes well and come across as genuine and approachable. Nicknamed “The Pistol Packin’ Preacher” and “Straight Arrow” in real life, it’s exciting to watch the Gunns in action as they demonstrate their mounted shooting skills. Randy also has a moment with Marcus where he uses horse analogies that obviously come straight from his heart. Heidi talks with Korina about pursuing her God-given talents in art, something Heidi herself has done with painting and drawing.
It’s certainly encouraging to discover a film the whole family can
watch together. Sure, it’s plot is predictable and things tie up
especially neatly in the end, but that’s what we want in a film like
this. There aren’t enough happy endings in today’s movies,
so we don’t mind cutting Set Apart a good bit of slack. Ultimately,
this is a film that focuses on what really matters---rescuing those overcome
by darkness, whether on the street corner or the rodeo circuit. Set Apart
hits its intended mark and provides a great escape for families searching
for something inspiring to pop in the DVD player on a Friday night.
MPAA Rating: Not rated, but would probably be rated PG for some mature themes
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C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.