On Friday, Aug. 11, the horror film “Annabelle: Creation” hits theaters. It’s about demon possession, and a nun is a character, but should Catholics go see it? I got to ask a priest, who’s also an exorcist, that very question.
But first, some background. “Annabelle: Creation” is a prequel to 2014’s “Annabelle” and the fourth film in “The Conjuring” film series (but it doesn’t feature Catholic paranormal-investigating couple Ed and Lorraine Warren).
Here’s the synopsis:
Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto) welcome a nun (Stephanie Sigman) and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.
Catholic blogger, author and lecturer Lisa Hendey gave the film a generally positive review but with stern caveats:
Let’s talk first about the elephant in the room and let me say up front that this is NOT a film for kids. It earns its R rating for horror, violence, and terror. While I have yet to see a review from Catholic News Service, my guess is that CNS reviewers would call this an L (Limited adult audience). For this reason, I was shocked and appalled by the number of parents who brought young children into the screening I attended. The film is scary both in terms of its use of “jump scare” tactics and even more so in its premise that the devil has taken over not only a home, but also bodies of people in that home.
Please read the whole thing, as Hendey emphasizes the film doesn’t get everything right in terms of demonic possession or the role of nuns in the 1940s, the time period of the film.
But, whether you go see this film or not, there’s a lot of material out there that has Catholicism as part of its story. Too many, like ABC’s “The Real O’Neals,” use the Faith as a punching bag and a punchline; others, like Fox’s “The Exorcist” and “The Conjuring” films, weave it into horror; still others, like TNT’s “Will,” see it as part of a larger historical context; and a few, like HBO’s “The Young Pope,” tackle the subject head-on.
Aside from “The Real O’Neals,” the projects mentioned above have positive benefits for Catholic viewers — but not for ALL Catholic viewers. None of the above is suitable for children, nor for those weak in the Faith or tempted to be involved in the occult; nor for the squeamish or very sensitive.
Basically it’s, Catholic viewer, know thyself — and that’s more or less what the priest I spoke to said … with even more words of warning.
So, here are some thoughts from Father Robert (last name withheld for security reasons) from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles:
Should Catholics be watching things like “Annabelle: Creation”?
“Should you be watching it?” That’s a good question, because if it’s gonna be something where, if you know yourself to be weak … For instance, an alcoholic knows he’s gonna keep himself away from alcohol. But I know that there are some people that are not affected by these things.
What I’m concerned with are the children who are very impressionable, and they see this kind of thing and if they’re not scared out of their wits, they could become very curious. This is one of the reasons why I’ve heard from numerous exorcists who said, “The last thing you want to do is get your kid to be watching Harry Potter or reading the books,” because a lot of the cases that they’re dealing with in recent times — and especially when I think it comes to young people — are young people who have become curious to the point where they’re doing the actual spell that they read about or hear about in a movie.
When I was in the seminary, we didn’t talk about this. None of our formators, none of our professors, would even approach the subject. I think it was the last year that I was there that there were two professors who actually did at least answer questions regarding spiritual warfare and dealing with demons. That was it. There was no teaching about, “Okay, how do you deal with it?” Because afterwards, I heard from some of my classmates who were saying, “I’m hearing about this in the confession and I have no idea what to do.”
Why offer yourself to talk about a movie like “Annabelle: Creation”?
Well, the idea is that I want for people to have an understanding of how this can actually happen. Now, I’ve gotta credit the writers of the movie for saying, “Well, it’s not something that happens arbitrarily. Obviously, this is something that was invited in.”
Now, they took the liberty of going a little bit beyond, because they didn’t have the understanding that these things can only take place if God allows.
So I need for people to see, “Okay, now, there’s certain things that can happen.” Especially if you’re going to invite a demon in to your life. I’ve seen it happen over and over again. But then there’s certain things that could not happen, only because God would not allow it.
Since I was a professional entertainment journalist, I’ve seen a lot of things, and I have a pretty tough skin. But there are still things I don’t want to let into my head. How are ordinary viewers to figure this out?
It’s got to go back to, “How impressionable are you as a human being?” I’ve got nephews who will go nowhere near, doesn’t matter, if it’s a horror film. If it’s something that’s got so much action in it and it’s got violence, they won’t go near a film like that, because they were raised to be gentle people. And to see something like that really scares them.
If you have that kind of understanding that this is something that’s going to leave a lasting impression on you, then don’t go near the theater. But I think that every person — especially a Christian — needs to understand that there’s certain things you cannot do.
Is it actually sinful to watch these things, even if they’re not actual pornography?
For adults that are gonna watch these kind of things, I’m hoping that they have an understanding of what is real and what isn’t, but see, now, that’s just it.
Oh, man. We can tell people till our face turns blue, “Don’t go watching these movies”, and it’s out of curiosity that it happens.
The one thing that I see going back to the Harry Potter … The reason that kids get in to Harry Potter is because it’s curiosity.
For somebody who is a Catholic, I need to say to them, “Look, Padre Pio is the one who said the reason why most people sin is because of curiosity.” And so for the person who allows themselves to go in to this kind of thing, you’re exposing yourself to it. We’ve said no. This is what’s gonna happen. You’re not gonna get possessed by watching the film, but if it is something that’s gonna disturb you and there’s gonna be some trauma, then don’t even bother going near the theater.
Sounds like Catholics have to take personal responsibility for this. Right?
Exactly. The person has to come to a decision using a well-formed conscience. But if we’re gonna go to the voting booth, you’re gonna have to say, “Okay. Well, what is it that I’m voting for? Why am I voting this way or that way?”
If you go in with a well-formed conscience, then you’re gonna feel better about what you’re doing. And it’s the same thing if you’re going to the theater. We’re supposed to be responsible for our own salvation, so therefore, we have to understand what the Lord is calling us to do. You don’t just make a decision based on your feeling. You can’t. But if you understand what the Church is teaching, and why it’s teaching this, then you can say, “Okay, I can make a decision — and a responsible decision — based on that.”
Images: Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment