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The following post comes courtesy of Grace Hill Media in sunny Southern California. As the genre, and responsible parenting/consumption of media are near to my heart, it was a no-brainer to feature their byline here.

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Lessons For Christians From Horror Movies

The popularity of horror films continue to grow, especially among teens and young adults, who flock to movie theaters on opening weekend.  This Friday, August 11, for example, the movie “Annabelle: Creation,” about a possessed doll hits theaters nationwide.  It seems difficult to believe that any movie created to frighten and give us nightmares might have a meaningful spiritual lesson for Christians.  And yet, anyone who has been brave enough to watch “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” written by Scott Derrickson, a Christian filmmaker, knows full well that horror movies can serve us with cautionary messages and, might just inspire the audience to head to their nearest church pew.
To be clear, not all horror films are the same. The genre has different versions.  
There’s no takeaway from “slasher” or disturbing “torture” movies meant to provide nothing but shock.  However, there are horror movies that depict spiritual warfare (which we know to be real) and the battle between good and evil. These supernatural films, oftentimes written and produced by Christians and based on real-life events, are filled with lessons about something we as people of faith have stopped discussing in an increasingly distracted secular world – that evil is real.

Here are a few other lessons from supernatural horror films:
1) Exorcisms are also real.  Although incredibly rare, people can get possessed by evil.  “The Exorcist” is based on a real-life possession of a young boy, and “Annabelle: Creation” is about a possessed girl.  

2) God will always defeat evil. No matter how powerful the enemy may be, God will always come out on top.  In the Bible, one of the most powerful miracles that Jesus performed was The Miracle of the Gadarene Swine in which Jesus cast unclean spirits out of a man.  In real-life and in all supernatural films that have a faith message including “The Conjuring” and “The Rite,” evil will always be vanquished.

3) Ouija Boards are a big no.  Perhaps one of the strongest and most valuable lessons to come from supernatural horror movies (which just as true in real life) is that those who become plagued or possessed by evil may have inadvertently invited those spirits or demon to come into their lives.  This is done through certain “gateways” that many priests and Christian leaders warn us about.  Christians, especially Christian parents must teach kids and teens to stay away from Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, or any sort divination.  These are all means in which evil can take hold of our lives.  In the second “Conjuring” movie the character becomes possessed after playing with a Ouija board.  This was based on a true person and event.
 
4) Prayer is the most powerful thing in the world.  Prayers protect and deliver us from evil.  In horror movies, those who are plagued by evil must often turn to a person of great faith or priest to help them.  That Christian leader is always portrayed as someone who believes prayer to be of utmost importance and is shown onscreen praying to God throughout the film.

5) Faith is the most important thing in the world.  Believing in God and being baptized in the Christian community protects and strengthens us.  It is a natural defense again evil.  In times of weakness, we must lean on our faith and turn to God.  The upcoming movie, “Annabelle: Creation,” is a cautionary tale that depicts what happens when one turns away from God and succumbs to temptation during a period of grief and weakness as opposed to leaning on God for grace and healing.  

All movies, including horror movies tell stories.  In the last century, before we had television and films, parents told stories and tales that were meant to alarm and even frighten children and youth from a certain place or course of action.

Now these stories, meant to be lessons, are brought to life onscreen, complete with sound effects and make-up.  They are terrifying and they should be – evil is something to stay away from.  But for Christians, there is a stronger message, one that should always comfort and strengthen us – that we have a savior and that he will always come to protect and fight for those of us in need.
 

I’ll give you the TL,DR (too long, didn’t read) now: I loved Paddington. Watching it, you’ll believe a bear can talk. It was by turns smart, charming, whimsical, and had just enough slapstick for the kids (and the kids at heart). It really is that rare live-action family film which rises to Pixar levels of quality.

The movie with a prolog showing an expedition to darkest Peru. It is here that an intrepid British explorer encounters the rarest of bears. As he’s leaving, he tells them that if they’re ever in London they should look him up… Forty years later, we see those bears–Pastuzo and Lucy raising their nephew, as yet unnamed.

Something happens which necessitates the sending of the young bear to London to find a forever family. He means well, doesn’t mean to be disruptive, just wants to fit in. But he is after all a bear in human society. He meets the Browns, who take him in, and comic misadventures follow.

Hugh Bonneville is a delight as the play-it-safe Mr. Brown, Nicole Kidman chews the scenery as film’s antagonist, and Peter Capaldi (the current Dr. Who) plays a nervous, nosy NIMBY (not in my backyard) with his usual flair and timing.

Since I don’t want to venture into spoiler territory here, I’ll say this: Paddington is a change agent. Sometimes (often), we get so comfortable in our safe lives we’re afraid to take risks. What Paddington tells is that life is not life without risks, that we need to sometimes embrace the disruption instead of eschewing it. Especially if if makes us uncomfortable.

I give Paddington two unreserved thumbs way up.

Have you seen Paddington? Are you you going to?

To cap off our anniversary trip, my wife and I watched Dumb and Dumber To. And boy was it ever. Dumb, that is. There were a couple of laugh-out-loud moments (this depends, of course, upon your tolerance for toilet humor), but in my opinion it fell far short of the original. Which is not very far to fall at all, I guess.

Either that, or I’ve grown since the original came out twenty years ago (hint: I was twenty-five then, and I guess what I think is funny has changed). Don’t get me wrong: being a guy, fart jokes can still be funny, but a lot of what was passed off as humor in this movie was cringe-inducing. For instance, the name (spoiler warning) of Kathleen Turner’s character is Frida.

Frida Felcher <--warning unless you know, don't look that up on Urban Dictionary. Trust me on this. Beyond that, the story was by-and-large a retread of the original: Road trip? Check. Homicidal companion? Check. Girl in peril? Check? I could go on. Point being this: unless you're feeling uber nostalgic for the original, don't bother. There aren't even any memorable lines like "So you're saying there's a chance?" here. Dumb and Dumber To is rated PG-13 for crude humor and language. In my view, it’s time for Harry and Lloyd to fade into the sunset.

At the outset let me just say that I’m glad I didn’t pay good money to see A Good Day to Die Hard in theatres. Yes, I know it came out a year ago. I just had a free preview weekend of HBO courtesy of DirecTV, and it was on.

So I queued up the DVR to record it. Thinking, “You know, Live Free or Die Hard was cheesy, but I kinda liked it. How bad can this one be?”

The answer is so, so bad. Clichés, deus ex machina, etc. Near as I can figure the plot had something to do with bad blood between Evil Papa Smurf and Russian Alec Baldwin (his Russian doppelganger). Throw in a surly kid named Jack–who don’t know jack–and Bruce Willis acting like he wishes he were in a Geritol commercial with Wilford Brimley, and you’ve got the movie. Seriously, Willis looked like he needed a healthy dose of prune juice.

Don’t get me started on the ridiculous set pieces. Like a car chase involving a conveniently placed trailer? Whither credibility? At least with say James Bond there’s a willing suspension of disbelief (especially the Blonde Bond films). But here? They only thing that could’ve made this film worse is Shia LeBouef. Or maybe that’s better? MAYBE THEN WE’D KNOW NOT TO, YOU KNOW, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.

Yes, that I think–other than the absurdities (quick car ride to Chernobyl from Moscow, anyone? It’s 12 hours away!)–was the film’s greatest sin:

It took itself too seriously. It wasn’t fun. The one liners fell flat. And there wasn’t one single “Yippee-kai-ai!” in the whole sordid mess.

And that, my friends, is just one McClane too far.

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At the outset, let me just state that I loved The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now let me tell you why:

The movie opens on Walter, alone, in his apartment, dressed for work, futzing around on social media. More specifically, he’s trying to work up the courage to send a “wink” to a coworker on eHarmony. He finally does, and… it doesn’t work. He can’t send the “wink.”

This begins one of the movie’s funnier subplots (it’s no spoiler to say that this involves Patton Oswalt, as he’s listed in the credits. You’ll just have to watch and find out how the whole eHarmony subplot is resolved). In fact, because I’m something of a literature nerd, this is but one instance of a Chekhov’s gun in the film. Chekhov’s gun, for the uninitiated, is a rule established by dramatist Anton Chekhov stating that one cannot introduce a gun in the first act that is not used later on.

There are numerous instances of this technique on display in Walter Mitty–none of which actually involve a gun. (If you see it, pay attention to: the aforementioned eHarmony subplot, a piano, a skateboard sequence, and a wallet). I bring this up because there is nothing wasted in this movie–the storytelling is tight, and focused. Within that framework, Ben Stiller has crafted a motion picture filled with great whimsy and flights of fancy. It is simultaneously grounded, and yet has its head in the clouds.

What a difference, say, from his 90’s era film, Reality Bites. In watching it, one gets the sense that, yes, reality can bite, but this is no reason to lose heart. In its opening sequence, in drab apartment, inside an even drabber building, that wistful tone is expertly portrayed: Walter is altogether too close to being a man who has lost heart. But it is upon arriving at work that day, when he learns of his company’s impending demise, that his journey begins. In storytelling terms, this is the inciting incident: the catalyst by which a character is forced to act. Walter’s is two-fold:

First, his company is reorganizing, and its next issue will be its last;

Second, a photographer with whom he has closely worked for sixteen years, has sent  negatives, stating that number 25 is his best work ever, and represents “the quintessence of life.”

Thing is, this negative is missing. Helping Walter track it down are his associate, Hernando, and a coworker named Cheryl.

Thus begins Walter’s journey. What begins as a quest for excellence becomes so much more. Walter thinks he is on a trip to find a photographer, but really he’s on a quest to get his heart back.

Isn’t that the same path we’re all on? We want to reclaim our hearts. We know there’s more to life, but have somehow lost it upon the way. On his way, Walter transitions from imaging himself to be a hero to actually being a hero.

He goes from existing to living, from surviving to thriving.

There are potholes on the way, the  temptation to lose heart arises again, but he digs deep, and gets the job done.

And if Walter can, so can I.

So can you.

So go see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. You’ll be glad you did.