Friday, May 3, 2013

Let the Right Film In - A Theology of Horror (part 5)

In part one of this blog series, I asked the question, what is a Christian theology of horror movies? In part two, I argued that horror films offer a clear morality in a relativistic culture. In part three, I claimed that horror films emphasize the spiritual realm in an empirical culture. In part four, I said that the horror genre clearly points to human depravity in a humanistic culturePlease use caution and discernment when choosing to watch any film, and particularly with horror films; not all of these films will be beneficial to all people.

So can Christians embrace horror films? Not without caution and discernment. Certainly not wholeheartedly. Many horror films contain graphic and disturbing content, ranging from violence and gore to explicit nudity and sexuality. These images aren't lovely or praiseworthy or noble, and will only detract from one's pursuit of Christlikeness. The ubiquitous nature of such images in popular horror films is due, in part, to the average horror audience's mediocre and consumeristic expectations. Aesthetic beauty, intelligent story-telling, and compelling performances are often sacrificed for the sake of, to put it crassly, more blood and more breasts. Filmmakers Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon poke fun at horror audiences' vapid desires through their "meta" horror flick, The Cabin in the Woods. Using nearly every horror cliche they can muster, the filmmakers begin to break down audience expectations, scene by scene, until the final nihilistic moment where the entire world is destroyed by the monstrous "gods" (the audience) who have failed to be satisfied.

Perhaps this contemplation of a theology of horror requires a deeper heart examination, one that transcends the genre and calls us to analyze all our media consumption. Why do we watch what we watch? Why are the images on our screens so captivating? Why do the Saw films continue to get made, with the Paranormal Activity films going the same route? Because people will pay to watch them. Quality and morality aren't as important as entertainment and thrills to the audience. Like the gods of Cabin, many horror audiences are only satiated with a fast-food combo of wanton violence with a side of sex, missing out on the various feasts the film world has to offer. The Cabin in the Woods points out our voyeuristic tendencies, which extend beyond the horror genre to other films and especially television programs. We are a culture that likes to watch. And when we don't get what we want, we're upset that our expectations weren't met. Horror films reveal the depravity of humanity not only on-screen; it's also often revealed in the audience it attracts.

Perhaps the most beautiful and truth-filled horror story is found in the Gospel itself. Scott Derrickson, director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and a Christian successfully working within the world of film, said this about the cross of Christ in an interview with film critic Jeffrey Overstreet:
I find the cross to be the ultimate merging of beauty and terror. It’s a vision out of a horror film. A man…nailed to a plank. The blood imagery. At the same time, it is transformed by its meaning—and by its artistic representations through history—to become something profoundly beautiful. The great potential of the horror genre is [in] that combination of aesthetic richness and meaningful subject matter…and spiritual significance.
The cross of Christ has been transformed from an instrument of death and torture to a symbol of salvation and grace. Creative and thoughtful horror films also offer glimpses of God’s grace and truth, like a dark contrast to the Light of the world. Regarding Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians, a well-made horror movie may not be “lovely,” but it certainly can be “excellent,” “admirable,” and (maybe most importantly), “true.”

What do you think? After reading this series of blog posts, what is your theological view of the horror genre?

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