War Room (dir. Alex Kendrick)

Posted: September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized

It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish a genuine Christian film from a parody of a Christian film.  Take one scene in “War Room”, the latest film from Christian filmmaking superstars Alex and Stephen Kendrick.  Our main character, Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer) walks around her empty kitchen yelling at the Devil.  Apparently, she blames the Devil for the trouble in her marriage.  Why an evil supernatural being who has powers rivaling the omnipotent creator of the universe would be concerned with the marriage of a single, upper-middle-class married couple the film makes no attempt to explain.  Apparently, between the civil war in Syria and concentration camps in North Korea, the Devil likes to take a break and ruin individual marriages in the United States for fun.  So yes, Elizabeth walks around her empty kitchen, as dramatic music plays, and she yells at the Devil to get out of her house, much in the way a priest in an exorcism movie would yell at the Devil to leave a little girl’s body.  Then, Elizabeth walks out onto her front porch and continues to yell at the Devil.  Surprisingly, none of her neighbors call the cops or mental health authorities for her yelling into the neighborhood that “my joy comes from Jesus.”  Then she goes back into her house, only to IMMEDIATELY COME BACK OUT and yells at the Devil that she is “sick of you stealing my joy.”  Honestly, I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

The Kendrick Brothers have always made films that are a bit goofy. In “Facing The Giants” they seem to argue that God decides high school football games.  In “Fireproof”, Kirk Cameron smashed his computer with a baseball bat because he couldn’t handle his porn addiction.  “War Room” is something else, though.  The plot of this one involves the marriage of Elizabeth and her husband Tony (T.C. Stallings, whose eyebrows make him look constantly angry).  The marriage is on the rocks because Tony is quick to anger, demeaning, and travels for his work as a pharmaceutical rep all the time.  Elizabeth doesn’t know what to do about this, until one day, in her role as a real estate agent, she meets with an old woman named Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie).  Elizabeth is going to be handling the selling of her house, yet despite this professional relationship, Miss Clara asks Elizabeth very personal and invasive questions about Elizabeth’s faith.  Miss Clara is meant to be the hero of this film, but she’s an arch old-black-woman stereotype in the Tyler Perry’s Madea model, and she showcases the worst aspects of a nosy religious person who thinks it’s their business to butt in on other people’s lives.  She also seems to be a but full of herself, despite pride being a sin, and seems to have anointed herself with the holy task of helping women in their marriages.  Her marriage counseling jihad is meant to come across as well meaning and funny in the film, but it actually comes across as downright creepy.

In any case, Miss Clara teaches Elizabeth about her War Room, which is really just her closet. Miss Clara tapes pieces of paper with prayers and Bible quotes on the wall of her closet, goes in there, and prays that things will happen.  She tells Elizabeth that she cannot solver her marriage problems herself, and instead needs to get into her closet and pray because only God can solve her problems.  As much as I’d love it if evangelical Christians went into the closet, this is a rather shitty message for a film to deliver.  Rather than communicate with your spouse, or go to marriage counseling, the film argues that the solution to problems with your asshole, absentee husband is to talk to yourself in your closet and hope things works out and your husband is hit with a massive dose of empathy for you.  Then again, this is also a film that asks women to “submit” to their husbands, and even includes a joke about kneeling before their husbands so that God can take a swing at them (the husbands).  Look, I know Christians don’t care that numerous scientific studies have been conducted on prayer, and that these double-blind, empirical research studies show that prayer has no effect beyond a mild placebo effect on those who know they are being prayed for.  Christians will always assume that when they talk to God, that their supernatural, omnipotent overlord is actually hearing them, and they aren’t really just talking to themselves.  Fine.  But there’s a bigger lack of logic when it comes to prayer in general, as well as in the film.  If God is omnipotent and omniscient, then he knows everything that is going to happen, and has planned it out.  In that sense, you cannot CHANGE GOD’S MIND by talking to him. No amount of praying will change the course that he has laid out.  So, either God just wants to hear you beg and ask him for something, like a narcissistic mafia don, or your prayers do nothing even IF you think God exists.  If you have the power to alter God’s plans, and make a being of infinite wisdom CHANGE HIS MIND, then that implies you have a better idea for what is supposed to happen then God, which makes you prideful on the level of Lucifer questioning God’s judgment, and he ended up becoming the Devil and trying to break up your marriage, so…yeah.

Okay, but the issue with how stupid the concept of prayer is belongs more to Christianity as a faith than just “War Room” in particular.  Still, the fact that the film argues that you should, in essence, do NOTHING when your spouse is treating you poorly; not communicate or ask for help from a professional or stand up for yourself, and instead be a passive tool to events as they would play out, is reprehensible in the sense that we can extrapolate it outside of the small context of a single marriage and bring it to the larger world.  After all, isn’t this what Christians in American government say about Climate Change?  That only God will decide when the world ends, so why do anything about it?  This “Let Go And Let God” philosophy is the closest thing that makes the silly “War Room” morally reprehensible.

And yes, this film is silly.  If I were to tell you that the film’s climax largely takes place during a double-dutch jump rope competition, would you think I was making it up?  Well, I’m not. Between this and Kirk Cameron doing the worm in slow motion in “Saving Christmas” I have to wonder what it is with Christians and finales based in dance moves.  Still, the film did show me something I’ve never seen before, which is a scene taking place at a competitive double-dutch jump rope competition, so I guess that’s something.  That our protagonists’ family only comes in second place is a bit odd.  Apparently God only wanted to reward their faith with 2nd place. Perhaps more time in the closet alone talking to themselves will allow them to get to first place next year.

During once scene in the movie, Elizabeth is asking God to keep her husband from straying from the marriage.  At the time, Tony is having dinner with a female business associate who is very obviously keen on sleeping with Tony.  For some reason, rather than God giving Tony conscience or a change of heart, God gives Tony food poisoning, and Tony is only stopped from cheating due to vomiting.  Teaching someone that their actions are wrong and have consequences is not the same thing as physically blocking them from committing actions they were inclined to commit, but I guess “War Room” doesn’t care about the difference.  Tony doesn’t actually see the errors of his ways until he walks in on Elizabeth’s closet and sees the nice things she’s written about him.  Apparently a selfish asshole can pull a complete 180 merely by seeing that someone wrote a nice thing for them.

But wait, that’s not all.  There’s a scene where Elizabeth and Miss Clara are walking through a parking garage and the LEAST CONVINCING MUGGER IN CINEMA HISTORY jumps in front of them with a switchblade.  He looks like a very clean, late-30s, white guy who doesn’t know what muggers are supposed to look like, and the framing of the shot tries to hide that our main characters would have been able to see this guy much earlier than they do.  Anyway, Miss Clara basically says “the power of Christ compels you” and the mugger runs away without taking anything.  Yeah, if someone tries to mug you, and you refuse to hand over your money and tell that mugger “in Jesus name stop this”, that mugger is probably going to shoot you.  Also, this mugger incident totally does not fit the tone of the film, and the movie comes to an abrupt, hysterical halt for this scene.

Think the film can’t be more silly or inept?  Oh, you are mistaken.  So Tony is a pharmaceutical rep who travels all around the country giving doctors samples of drugs his company produces in the hopes that the doctors will prescribe those drugs more, and the company will make more profits.  Now, Elizabeth and Tony live in a very large, expensive house.  According to statistics I just Google right now, the median salary for a pharmaceutical rep is $121,000 a year.  For some reason, there’s a subplot in this movie wherein Tony is stealing samples of drugs so that he can sell them on the side.  The income he’s making from these side sales? $19,000.  This makes no sense.  If you make $121,000 a year, have access to a free company car, and get paid travel all around the country, why on Earth would you risk all of that for a measly $19,000, especially when the film tells us Tony gets frequent bonuses and, as the film’s awkward expository dialogue tells us, he is the company’s “top salesman”?  If he’s the top salesman, he probably makes closer to $200,000.  I am left with the conclusion that the Kendricks have no knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry, much like the creators of “God’s Not Dead” had no knowledge of the field of philosophy.  Oh sure, you could simply argue that Tony is an idiot of massive proportions, but then explain how, later in the movie after he’s been justly fired, he says he can get a job at the local community center for “half of what I was making before.”  That means the director of this local community center, which seems to be located in a North Carolina mountain town, pulls in an annual salary of, on the low end, $60,000.  Yeah, the Kendricks know nothing about the profession they placed one of their main characters in.

Tony is fired at first for inflating his numbers, but he later goes to his bosses and admits his theft. His boss then, inexplicably, asks for two days to decide his fate.  My guess is a boss would know on the spot whether he wanted to prosecute Tony or not, but the Kendricks needed to add some suspense to the proceedings, I guess. One wonders how they had the self-restraint to not make it the more biblically significant THREE days. But yeah, obviously they decide not to do anything because Tony is really sorry, and as we all know, Christians believe that any bad behavior in which the person who committed it is REALLY SORRY is sufficiently handled, even if you sexually assault underage relatives (Josh Duggar).

I haven’t even mentioned the running “gag” of Elizabeth having extremely smelly feet, which the film thinks is funny but seems to add to the film’s implicit, religious-based sexism.  As if making Elizabeth submit to her husband and her God doesn’t weaken her as a character enough, the filmmakers also have to give her feet that smell so much that they cause a rank odor that wafts into adjacent rooms and chokes delivery men outside.  An odor that powder does not help, and which causes a husband to place a surgical mask over his nose and mouth before giving his wife a foot massage.  What in the hell?

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, the film is at least better made than “Facing the Giants” or “Fireproof”.  The editing is less choppy, the camera angles are looking for professional, the acting is slightly better (if still either stilted or arch), and it simply doesn’t look as cheap as the other films.  There are some really badly done scenes, like a dream sequence in which Tony imagines a man in a hoodie assaulting his wife, only to find out that the man in the hoodie is HIM!  The scene is shot in a slightly blurry slow motion that makes it look cheesy and makes it unintentionally hilarious.  Never mind the loaded symbolism of a professional black man in a suit fighting his hoodie-wearing alter ego (as if all upstanding black men must fight the ghetto thug inside of them to become a good person…where are Black Lives Matter protests when you need them), the dream sequence shouldn’t have been included.

Another late scene in the film involves Elizabeth showing Miss Clara’s vacated home to two potential buyers, a couple. Unbelievably, the male half of the couple walks into the closet, walks out, and says “Someone’s been praying in here.”  When, understandably, Elizabeth asks how he can tell. The man, revealed to be a pastor, says “It’s just BAKED IN to the place.”  Yeah, because people can tell that prayer has taken place in a room the same way they can tell weed has smoked in a room because of the lingering stink.  *facepalm*

The very ending of the film is some frightening, cult-like shit.  The film ends with Miss Clara in her closet…ahem, WAR ROOM, praying to God to “send her another” young woman, and then the film plays a montage of different people praying around the country as Miss Clara asks God to raise “an army” of the faithful.  Then there are shots of kids praying in school, and a stick shot of the U.S. Capitol building.  So a film that was mainly concerned with small-level prayer activism (saving an individual marriage) now becomes a chest-thumping battle cry for Christianity to take over public schools and the U.S. government?  It’s a freaky ending, especially since it seemingly contradicts the film’s reasons for there being a “War Room” at all.  The film quotes the Bible with Matthew 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” On its face, the quote seems to imply that prayer should be a secret thing done alone, and yet the film wants kids to openly pray in a classroom?  Make up your mind, Christians.

Ultimately, I can’t say “War Room” is as morally reprehensible as the worst films of the Christian genre, like “God’s Not Dead”, and it has better production values than a “Saving Christmas” or a “Last Ounce of Courage”.  The film is silly to no end, and lacks the polish of a “Do You Believe?” or “The Christmas Candle”, so can’t be ranked among the “best” of this thus-far horrendous genre.  “War Room” is simply an intellectually lacking, unintentionally hilarious pile of crap. D.

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