Punishment Revisited: War Room

Posted in November of 2018, this was a punishment movie that was extremely painful.  As well, it lead to some interesting conversations with some people who seemed upset that I didn't like it.  The movie is about prayer in the Christian faith, and it felt like because people appreciated and identified with its message that it was wrong of me to criticize the film.  Identifying with the message of a film is not the same as that film being good.  This film was not, and just another example of how messy faith based filmmaking can be.

Original Review:

If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.  Yeah, I'm not going to be following that advice.  Sometimes things do need to be said, and I believe that is what should happen in the case of the faith based film, War Room.  I know that there are a lot of people that enjoyed this movie based on the fact that it has an 87% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.  The film was also a financial success as it made $67 million on a budget of $3 million.  To all of the people that like this film and its message, I need to make it as clear as can be that I found this movie to be incredibly upsetting.

The story is about a married family that has struggles.  The wife, Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer), suffers at the hands of the sternly controlling, borderline verbally abusive, and affair seeking Tony (T.C. Stallings).  They have a wonderful little girl, Danielle (Alena Pitts), who gets stuck seeing mommy and daddy fighting.  The story takes off when Elizabeth comes across a cliche named Clara (Karen Abercrombie), an elderly woman that has no boundaries that pries her way into Elizabeth's life to then mentor her.  The guidance that Clara gives, which is in fact the message of the movie, is where the serious issue arises.

Elizabeth is told to pray for her husband.  Sure.  Fine.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  The problem is that this is ALL she is told she should do.  Clara, and the movie as a whole, is saying that in this situation, with a husband that is controlling, borderline verbally abusive, and actively seeking an affair, all the woman should do is pray.  She is not to assert herself.  She is not to stand up for herself.  She is not to question him on who this other woman is.  And, insultingly, she isn't even to express her feelings.  Nope, all she should do, as a good wife, is pray.  This, friendly reader, is absolute bullsh*t.

I understand that director Alex Kendrick is trying to show that people need to rely on God and trust Him, but try actually sitting down with a woman in an abusive relationship and telling her that she isn't even to call her husband out on what he does.  Elderly cliche, prying Clara nails home the fact that Elizabeth has to pray and get out of the way.  That is what Alex Kendrick is saying is to be done in such a situation.

Of course, this is all easily said within the safe confines of War Room.  A lot of faith based films that I have seen have tried to take 'gritty' topics (like the unhealthy marriage in War Room) to address, but then glaze everything over in a happily ever after fairy tale.  This film is no different.  The husband quickly comes to his senses and everything becomes picture perfect, and the real life questions are worse than ignored.  What happens if the prayer isn't answered?  What happens if the behaviour not only continues, but gets worse.  I guess that doesn't matter.  Apparently the woman is just supposed to take it and never even tell her spouse that she is hurt by what happens.

If you disagree with what I am saying, watch the movie again.  This is what Kendrick is saying, and I do not know how it could be argued otherwise.  The character of Clara is essentially the moral compass of the movie, and it is through her lips that the message is told.  Not only is Clara a cliche, but she is a dangerous cliche that tries to convince people that real life serious issues can be looked at with such simplicity.

  Six percent of females in Ontario report being physically or sexually abused by a spousal partner.  That's only the people who report it.  The real percentage is much higher.  What justice is being done to those poor sufferers (and the males that get abused as well) by saying that the only thing they should do is pray.  Maybe Kendrick would say that physical abuse is different, but, once again, where is the line drawn?  At what point would elderly, cliche, prying Clara advise a woman that she should actually do something for her own mental or physical health instead of just existing like a prisoner?

The message of this movie is quite brutal and is beyond tone deaf.  I mostly had female friends in high school, and had lots of female friends beyond that.  Sadly, I got to see the reality of these relationships that eat away at them and break them.  Never once, and never will I ever, would I have told them they needed to take the kind of fantasy, everything is always going to work out way that War Room puts forth.  There is much more than this simplistic approach.

I have no problem with spirituality being looked at through film.  I honestly think that is something that audiences are open to.  Everyone, regardless of their thoughts on religion, has had moments in their life when they have connected with something on a different level.  Whether it's looking at their new born child for the first time or sitting around a campfire with the magnificent starry sky overhead.  The problem is when movies address these things like War Room does.  It serves to only preach to the choir, and, as with most faith based films, presents themselves as dealing with 'real issues' but never showing actual struggle or consequence.  They come off as fantasy, missing out on opportunities to highlight what actual people deal with when confronted with faith.

There were a few aspects of the film that I do feel the need to point out as positive.  This is the first Kendrick brother film that looked like a real film.  For so long I have despised faith based films for having the same visual presence as Hallmark made for TV films.  People have argued back with me that I need to remember the budget that they were made on, but it doesn't take much knowledge of independent cinema to know that there are films made for a whole lot less that look a whole lot better.  The technical aspect of these films has always been embarrassing, so it is nice seeing that perhaps a corner has been turned.  The audio quality was legit level as well.  Having said all of that, I don't know if it's actually a praise to say that a movie that came out in theatres looked like a movie that would be distributed to theatres.  I don't say that about any other film.  I didn't last year say, 'Oh, wow!  Christopher Nolan made Dunkirk look like a movie!'

Young Alena Pitts, playing the daughter, was very fun to watch.  She had a great emotional range, and the only times in the movie where I felt any kind of connection to the state of the family was through her.  Also, at the end of the film there is a music montage (sigh... one of three music montages in the film... sigh...) that shows freestyle double-Dutch skipping.  I never knew such a thing existed, but there were some serious skills on display.

This movie was nothing but fantasy.  It is so far from feeling real world applicable, and, while seeming to claim a grittiness, it is candy coated in a world where there is no consequence.  I get what Kendrick was trying to show, but that's not what actually came out.  It's the same thing with the offensive Sucker Punch by Zack Snyder.  He believed the movie was really about female empowerment, when what his movie showed was that the only way women could be empowered was in their imaginations because they couldn't take what happened in the real world.  Both directors thought one thing, but, when the base premise is inspected, the films are really just tripe from men who don't seem to have a flippin' clue what women deal with.  People liked this movie, and feel free to argue with me over it.  We can go through the script line by line and nowhere will you find elderly, cliche, prying Clara (who is the bringer of the movie's message) saying anything that disproves what I have said.

Rating - 0.5 out of 4 stars