Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Review of Bless the Child
Note: this is the same review of the Christian horror film Bless the Child that I submitted over a year ago to Flame in the Dark, but that site appears no longer in existence.
Bless the Child is the sort of rare horror film which is told inequitably from a Christian POV. Reportedly, it was based on a novel which had strong ties to pagan mythology, especially that of the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. The movie itself, however, assumes a very Christian worldview and tackles the topic of spiritual warfare as fearlessly as a Frank Peretti novel.
The story itself center around a small girl named Cody(Holiston Coleman) who exhibits special God-given powers, and who is destined to be a “prophet or saint” of some kind who will lead people to God. She is born to Jenna, a drug-addled vagrant who also sleeps around. It is noteworthy that if any child would qualify as being “born in sin,” this would be this one. The drugee takes the child to the apartment of her sister Maggie (played by Nichol Kidman), who works as an intern at the local hospital. She chews her sister out for giving birth on drugs. Though Maggie is willing to help her recover from the drug abuse, her sister leaves the child in her care. Before long, Cody begins to show signs that appear to be of autism, such as rocking silently back and forth. Other, more telling symptoms later become apparent, however, as when Cody literally brings a dove back to life at her school for autistic children. She also harbors some of form of telekinesis in her ability to cause plates to spin, as well as a type of extra-sensory perception.
The villain is played to oily perfection by Rufus Sewell. I first encountered him as the hero of the dark sci-fi thriller Dark City. However, the few other times I’ve seen him, including his roles in The Legend of Zorro (which put Christianity in an unfavorable light, BTW), and The Illusionist, have been as evil characters. Eric Stark, a former child star who fell into drugs and booze during his adolescence, now heads a “New Age” type self-help organization, appropriately titled the New Dawn. Sewell manages simultaneously to be slickly charming and creepy in the role, though as Stark’s true nature becomes apparent and worsens, he audience is shown him as thoroughly, and repugnantly evil. Problems begin when Jenna, Maggie’s sister, now married to Stark (Rufus Sewell), and apparently weaned off her former drug habit, suddenly reappears in order to take custody of Cody. Actually, it’s Stark who demands the custody. At first he appears totally benevolent, and to have Cody’s best interests at heart. When Maggie proves “difficult,” however, he threatens her with legal action, then, when Maggie remains steadfast, takes Cody by force. The law enforcement is of little help, seemingly reluctant to take on an organization as powerful as Stark’s, save for one detective specializing in occult crimes played by James Smit. Action ensues, involving car chases, hordes of winged demons, and some startling revelations. Maggie experiences some frightening demonic visions, such as one scene where she find’s Cody’s room swarming with demonic CGI rats. There are also what appear to be angels in human form who appear to assist or give encouragement to the good guys.
Christina Ricci, whose role in this movie was overhyped, appears in only two brief scenes (after which she is gruesomely killed off)as a recovering drug addict and former member of Starks’ New Dawn, who is under Maggie’s care. Through her, Maggie learns to true nature of New Dawn, and Stark’s motivation for kidnapping Cody. Though New Dawn is allegedly helping kids off of drugs, it seems actually to be doing the opposite—among other things. Once brief scene late in the film, in fact, shows Stark is actually keeping Jenna on the drugs. It turns out that Stark is behind a string of Satanic child-murders (the “Slaughter of the Innocents” a direct reference to King Herod) directly linked to Cody’s kidnapping. Cody is the one they’re looking for, however, and Stark has very special plans for turning Cody over to the Dark Side, so to speak. My reference to the Star Wars series may seem to trivialize the film, but that’s not my intention. The fact that Stark behaves very much like a Sith Lord is, however, very significant. In the Star Wars movies, George Lucas makes it clear that emotions such as fear anger and hate are all dangerous paths to the Dark Side. In a Christian perspective, hate is directly opposed to love, and therefore opposed to God-- for God is Love. All of these emotions fuel to desire to satisfy the self, to the possible expense of others. Though Lucas drew much of his Star Wars mythos from the works of Joseph Campbell, rather than Christian cosmology, the truth here is unmistakable. Eric Stark could well be channeling Darth Sidius when he tells Maggie at one point, “Feel that hate...something that feels that good can’t be wrong.” His efforts to persuade Cody to join him are compared directly to Satan’s temptation of Christ by a wheelchair bound Biblical scholar who informs Maggie, “Eric Stark and organizations like his are spreading a powerful message. God does not really exist. Therefore, we can all make up our own rules.” This is direct and courageous (in the climate of PC Hollywood) attack on relativist ethics. It is also a charge leveled by Christians and other theists at atheism, which very often promotes godlessness as a type of liberation. Another of the films accomplishments is demonstrating how evil can be potentially alluring to the characters, just as in life, while demonstrating to the audience its true rotten nature. It is revealed that Stark’s New Dawn, while disguised as a self-empowerment group, is, underneath, knowingly and blatantly Satanic at its core. The film makes clear the insidious nature of Satan, for although Christians are wary of anything snacking of the occult, New Dawn appears to be very genuine, and the testimony of young people (“It changed my whole life!” one young man explains with apparent sincerity) on a website Maggie visits give the organization striking credulity. However, once his true nature shows itself, Stark makes no bones to Cody about whom he really serves. Unlike Satan’s tempting of Christ, however, Stark does not so much attempt to bribe Cody as try to convince her of the falsity of her belief in God. We can see the much same thing happening on a much vaster scale in today’s secular culture. A more insidious fact is that there is a slight though definite similarity between empowerment groups such as Stark’s and the fact that most Christian literature today tends to be self-help oriented. This automatically places the self over one’s duty toward others.
Although Bless the Child is, for all practical purposes, a Christian Horror film, in doing some background research for this essay I encountered some curious facts regarding Bless the Child. Somewhat disheartening is the fact that the bulk of the reviews of the film on Amzon.com appeared to be negative. The professional reviews at Rotten Tomatoes proved overwhelmingly so. In fact, I was able to locate only a single definitely positive review among them. Not surprisingly, most reviewers targeted the film’s strong Christian elements among the movie’s faults. This, I fear, is partly due to the perceived inconsistency when it comes to “Christian Horror.” Most horror fans seeking terror and suspense (or perhaps dreary naturalistic themes), will likely be put off by what they consider to be overt “preachiness,” as BTC most definitely does promote a Christian worldview. Those in pursuit of sadistic thrills would do best to seek out a different movie; there are no innocent but “deserving” victims in BTC. Save for the most evil characters (Stark and a hired killer die in the climactic shoot-out) there is no implication that those who die in the film will end up anywhere but heaven—Christina’s Ricci’s character has left Eric’s cult and is at least seeking truth. The ending, in fact, is very morally redemptive. In the final scene, Maggie, a recovered Jenna, and the detective, are taking Cody to church, when one of the surviving cultists comes at them with a knife, apparently intent on killing Cody. When Cody turns to confront him, the kid becomes terrified and runs. Among the few positive reviews on Amazon.com, were in fact, by Christians who were unafraid to view a horror flick. One of the best such reviews was by none other than Roger Elwood, who is both a long-time horror buff, and a prominent sci-fi anthology editor back in the seventies, and author of the Christian Angelwalk series, the Christian science fiction novel The Wandering, among others.
Although I was not initially aware of this, the director, Chuck Russel, is indeed a Christian, who was in fact going to direct Frank Peretti’s first novel on spiritual warfare. According to Ted Baehr of Movieguide:
At one point, Chuck Russell, the director and a committed Christian, was involved with THIS PRESENT DARKNESS. The studios refused to give him a green light for that profusely Christian project. One wonders why, after seeing BLESS THE CHILD, which is just as overtly Christian as THIS PRESENT DARKNESS.
I would agree with him that Bless the Child, also film about spiritual warfare is most definitely a Christian horror film, and one of the best.