By Aaron Brown, Crosswalk.com
Horror and Faith. Is that a recipe for disaster or the makings of a great story? For some Christians, the two don’t mix. But rest assured, they are almost inseparable on the big screen. From Hollywood films like A Quiet Place to the more obscure like St. Agatha, there is an undeniable relationship between faith and horror movies. The relationship reveals a curiosity for God, but one often met with denial, stereotyping, and a clear ignorance of Scripture. Though, rarely, there are examples of prayer being used to improve someone’s life as they faceoff with the supernatural. And sometimes they win. Have you witnessed faith in horror films? If so, see which ideas you recognize from the list. Here are 8 ways Christianity appears in horror films today.
Warning: possible spoilers ahead!
“Oh my God!”
“Oh my God,” is the most obvious, prevalent, and annoying way faith appears in horror. The three-word phrase captures shock, intrigue, fear. Despite its overabundance, the phrase has not died down over the years. We often hear this line spoken by a woman as she gets jump scared either by something harmless or something truly terrifying.
A case can be made that this is using God’s name in vain, especially if the movie is not supportive of faith. That being said, the phrase accurately depicts how people react to everyday scary or sad news. Ironically, believers and nonbelievers are equally as likely to use the phrase onscreen or off for those very reasons.
And if you’re wondering which movie used this line best, then that award goes to the infamously terrible Trolls 2.
As a Christian enjoying horror movies, one of the most difficult qualities to stomach is the misrepresentation of Scripture. An obvious sign of a non-Christian directing a horror film is how Bible verses and ideas are misquoted, intentionally or not. The evil ladies in We Summon the Darkness claim to be making murderous sacrifices on behalf of God. Not once do they cite Scripture to verify their claims, but they make the claims nonetheless. One of the women even has a father who’s a preacher, of sorts.
For some reason or another, nonbelievers make movies involving faith - which is great - but do so without consulting a studying and fervent believer. Yes, people have committed atrocities in the name of God, but doing so is explicitly using God’s name in vain. That is wrong theology.
We should encourage non-Christians to engage with our theology, but the right theology, not something obviously out in left-field. If horror flicks were to quote correct theology they would be depicting Christians a lot differently.
Satan and his offspring get a lot of play in horror films. Take Devil, for instance, a film where the Devil possesses one of five people trapped in an elevator. Interestingly, this movie examines the morality of mankind - which good horror does. The film doesn’t glorify demons but rather presents them in a supernatural and scary way.
There are hardly ever angels in these movies, though, A Dark Song may have featured one toward the end. Looking at how directors choose to depict angels in film (not just demons) could be interesting, given their depiction in places like Ezekiel 1:10.
Amidst all the spooks and scares that occur within horror films, there are calmer and more serene moments (however brief) where families come together to pray. Hereditary and A Quiet Place, are two horror films that make use of family drama, while providing excellent examples of prayer. In both films, faith is meant to bring the families together, though sometimes that is not the outcome. This is identical to the reality we live in. We pray, but what we want doesn’t always come to fruition. Granted, our real prayers are far more likely to happen than the doomed people in those movies.
The classic exorcist horror movie is none other than The Exorcist. From head-spinning to swearing to possession, the idea of an exorcism is one not often talked about (at least in non-Catholic circles). An exorcism is the removal of a demon from possessing a host or location. In Scripture, Jesus removed spirits from people like in Mark 9:17-29. An exorcism on the big screen may be man’s attempt to recreate the miracles of Jesus.
Bone Tomahawk is one of the few horror films where prayer actually saves the day. Think of passages like the plea for deliverance found in Psalms 13. In this movie, Arthur O'Dwyer has a damaged leg and two people in his life who need rescuing. He says a quick prayer and the rest of the movie works out in his favor. He overcomes the alien antagonists, the Troglodytes.
While we can’t relate to aliens chasing us down in a western desert (hopefully), we can relate to the notion of our world being turned upside down in the face of opposition. Whether we say our prayers internally or out loud, quickly or briefly, God hears us.
Anyone familiar with Scripture knows that God can and will inflict punishment where he chooses. We know that God hates sin, regarding some acts as abominations. Yet, Bible readers also know that God is not all fire and brimstone. He sent Jesus, a loving, forgiving, and healing figure. Before that, He forgave His people time and time again. While God delivers judgment, He also delivers love. Horror movies often depict God as being overly judgmental and condemning, as though he doesn’t understand the flawed nature of mankind. He designed us.
Movies like the original Carrie are great for various reasons, but the way Carrie’s mother talks about God is untrue. She uses God to justify her own cruelty. To be fair, some Christians do act in this way and for that reason, the movie could score points for accuracy. However, today Carrie’s mother is no outlier in the plethora of Hollywood films. She’s the norm and in reality, that just isn’t true.
Crosses (a ton of crosses)
Watch a movie like those in The Conjuring franchise and count how many crosses appear over the course of each movie. If every cross was a dollar, you could at least make a week’s wage. Maybe. Movies like these feature crosses that appear in the background, foreground, everywhere, and of course, they turn upside down.
Crosses turning upside down are meant to represent evil, the reversal of Jesus (crucified right side up). Some believe Peter was crucified upside down referring to John 21:18 and according to various non-biblical accounts, claiming how he died in Rome under Emperor Nero. All in all, a cross turning upside down to represent evil sounds about as silly as a ball turning upside down - what difference does it make?
The Future of Faith and Horror
The future looks bleak for faith appearing in horror films. As America continues to lose its Christian foundation, we as a society grow ever further from God. More movies will be made, but fewer related to faith. And those that depict faith have less reason to do so positively. Movies, like other forms of art, are a reflection of the culture. Today’s culture is not consumed with a fervent desire to worship God.
That being said, there are still Christians who create art. So long as they exist there is hope for movies that reflect a care, understanding, and appreciation of faith. There are a few modern films that showcase faith. If our country can experience a revival, we will undoubtedly get more of them. For now, we can pray and wait, and for the artists out there, we can pray and create.
Photo Credit: ©Felipe Bustillo/Unsplash
Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He's an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo.