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Horror producer surprises with Christian drama 'Grace Unplugged'

| Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013, 6:49 p.m.

The last three movies produced by Mark Burg — a sequel to “Saw,” the remake “Texas Chainsaw 3D” and a violent revenge tale called “The Tortured” — were all rated R for “grisly” and “sadistic” violence and were hardly pleasant experiences for characters trying to remain alive.

But Hollywood has a habit of making strange bedfellows, and with Burg's latest project, fans of the horror veteran's work may be surprised by its story: “Grace Unplugged” is a Christian drama about a church singer (AJ Michalka) whose estrangement from her evangelical father mirrors the prodigal-son parable in the Gospel of Luke.

“Grace Unplugged” is hoping to satisfy a largely overlooked segment of the moviegoing audience — people who support family-friendly entertainment that carries a devotional message.

Made for just $1.7 million, “Grace Unplugged” opens in Birmingham, Ala., where 18-year-old Grace Trey (Michalka) and her father, Johnny (James Denton), are playing devotional songs for a small congregation. It's clear the two are clashing over their performances, and Grace feels her inflexible father is crimping not only her music but also her professional ambitions.

After a fight with her father, Grace decides to leave for Hollywood, where she connects with a record producer named Frank Mostin (Kevin Pollack), who once made albums with her father, when Johnny was a hard-living rock ‘n' roller. Frank encourages Grace to dump her Christian music in favor of pop tunes, and hires a stylist to tart her up a bit. Southern California has its temptations — alcohol, single men, nightclubs — but it's not some wicked Gomorrah, as the genre typically might have it.

Before long, Grace is succeeding. But her climb up the charts carries a personal price. Is she living for God, or for herself? Can she own her faith, and thereby be reconciled with her family?

Michalka, who said she has been doing nearly as many interviews with secular-news outlets as religious ones, believes that the movie — rated PG for thematic elements and brief teen drinking — can appeal to mainstream moviegoers, in addition to the core Christian audience. “The movie really does plant its feet in both worlds,” Michalka said. “For me, it's really, truly and purely a family film.

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