Just as it is very easy for rock musicians to communicate anger, and very difficult for them to inspire joy, so it’s difficult for filmmakers to avoid exploiting the power of darkness. It’s easy to jolt us, to scare us, to gross us out. It’s easy for evil to command our attention. Redemption, on the other hand, is a profoundly un-cool subject for the big screen.
In discussions about Christian artists currently working in Hollywood, the name Scott Derrickson keeps coming up. I look forward to interviewing him someday; he’s written some intriguing projects, working with Wim Wenders, Jerry Bruckheimer, Martin Scorsese, and others. Now he’s got a movie of his own: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. (Here’s the trailer.)
Will this be just another movie about demons? I doubt it. First of all, it’s based on a true story. Secondly, a story about demon possession written by someone who really believes in spiritual warfare would… you’d think… emphasize different things and explore different aspects of that conflict. It may be that Emily Rose stands out from the pack of recent horror films as a movie with something profoundly substantial to offer.
The last few years have seen a steady increase in the regularity of big screen horror films. More and more, it seems, audiences have an appetite for the darker side of spiritual matters. From the Exorcist prequels to Constantine to the Zombie Movie of the Month and the surge of Japanese horror-flick re-makes… we’ve got the demonic on our minds.
How does an artist depict a story of spiritual warfare without exploiting the intrigue-factor of the dark side? Let’s face it: As well-made as The Exorcist is, most people don’t go to it for spiritual insight. They go for the scare factor. We don’t hear movie buffs waxing nostalgic about the film’s questions of redemption. We hear them talking about the poor little girl’s head spinning around and the projectile vomiting.
Nevertheless, spiritual warfare is real. Demons cannot be explained away by modern psychology as mere imbalances. Why shouldn’t it be the subject of serious art?
It seems to me that the horror genre is capable of so much more than merely troubling us. If people are dazzled by darkness, than that does, in a way, glorify the darkness, making us more focused on our fears and less focused on sources of hope. Or it sends us away taking matters of the spirit less seriously, treating actual threats as just fantasy-world thrills. Art can, on the other hand, expose evil in a way that awakens the conscienc, and persuades us that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in contemporary philosophy.