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Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot

It's natural to be suspicious of an Angel Studios picture; after all, the Utah-based movie studio made its mark last year with the surprising box office success of the child-trafficking thriller "Sound of Freedom." The film raked in $242 million off the back of a QAnon conspiracy-peddling star and the overwhelming sensation of fighting back against the godless, "woke" Hollywood system that, many devotees presume, peddle and abuse children themselves. 

So it's a surprise, maybe even a self-defeating one, that "Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot," the studio's followup, is as milquetoast as it gets. It's a feel-good story about children's welfare that takes its subject matter seriously and downplays sensationalism. It's your standard warm, fuzzy tale of Christian love that plays to the church set in ways that are hardly objectionable, even as it plays those notes straight down the middle with little finesse.

The titular Possum Trot is, of course, the setting of this based-on-a-true-story tale, a majority-Black small town in East Texas fueled by its vibrant Baptist church, led by charismatic reverend W.C. Martin (Demetrius Grosse). His "First Lady," Donna (Nika King), struggles to keep her head above water with two children and piling bills. And yet, in a moment of utmost turmoil, she hears God's voice whistling through the trees. She's been called, she says; she wants to adopt more kids. "Human ones?" W.C. barks skeptically. Still, they press on, moved by a Biblical urge to serve the needy.

It's a move that baffles Susan Ramsey (Elizabeth Mitchell), a caseworker jaundiced by the system's inability to help the many kids in Texas' foster system. But she sees the opportunity and lets the Martins adopt several kids from broken homes -- the most at-risk of them includes Terri (Diaana Babnicova), a traumatized teen who comes to them pretending to be a cat. Her quirks are played for laughs, at least at first, but blessedly, director Terry Weigel (who also writes the script alongside wife Rebekah) manage to balance the scales with no small amount of pathos.

The Martins' story inspires the rest of the town to adopt, and soon after, 77 kids come to stay with the residents of Possum Trot. From here, "Story of Hope" settles into a generally heartwarming family drama narrative, as the townspeople discover the joys and pitfalls of taking on such an altruistic mission. Sure, it feels good and Christian to take on so many at-risk kids, and the Black church community circles around each other to help out. But as bills pile up, so do tensions, as Donna, in particular, struggles to deal with the many traumas and triggers of the children she's taken under her wing. 

As these things go, Weigel directs the proceedings with a heaping helping of po-faced earnestness, syrupy music playing over wide-eyed performances dripping with conviction. It's a film steadfastly dedicated to the notion of God moving through people, and the power of the church (particularly the tight-knit rhythms of the Black southern church) to inspire selfless action. But the rhythms themselves are hardly surprising, and the two-hour runtime struggles to turn a largely event-free story into something intriguing. Don't get me wrong, it's admirable that such an agenda-based picture is willing to show the dark side of adoption: the broken hearts, the impossible cases, the strained wallets. But the film cycles through arcs of trials and victories that get repetitive by the time it features a contrived climax surrounding Terri's mental breakdown and subsequent (baptismal) redemption. As if the story weren't deceptively simple enough, Donna's voice narrates the thing to an irritating degree, forcing the themes down our throats as if Weigel didn't trust his intimate camerawork and surprisingly deft cast. 

"Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot" is hardly the right-wing propaganda that "Sound of Freedom" was; at its best, it's a heartwarming, deeply sincere message movie about the power of charity and community, one of the few Christian-geared pictures that emphasizes the religion's positive qualities rather than repeat Fox News talking points. 

As with "Sound of Freedom," "Possum Trot" closes out not just with heartwarming cuts to the real figures and the bright futures they've secured thanks to faith and community, but also with a minutes-long call to action to support the film. The real W.C. and Donna read off a teleprompter while a QR code pops on-screen, asking viewers to "Pay It Forward" and donate tickets for others to see for free. It's a novel gambit, one that skyrocketed "Freedom" to box-office success and gave Angel Studios a model for its cinematic offerings. I'm not quite sure how I feel about its model of astroturfing its way to profitability. But if it has to happen, I'd much rather it happen to a film with its heart in the right place. 

Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. You can also find his byline at RogerEbert.com, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere. 

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Film Credits

Sound of Hope: The Story of Possum Trot movie poster

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

Rated PG-13

129 minutes

Cast

Demetrius Grosse as Reverend W.C. Martin

Nika King as Donna Martin

Elizabeth Mitchell as Susan Ramsey

Carlos Aviles as Marcos

Demián Castro as Chewy

Writer

Director

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