Monday, September 17, 2018

A Lack of Magic

With the boys gone off to college and the house still and quiet, me and the missus are spending a little more time together, settling in to our now clean rec room to watch movies and shows together.

The other night, we were up for a quality horror flick, and so went to the critically acclaimed The Witch.

I'd seen the previews, and it looked good.  Meaning, not just generically scary, but with a particular director's palette and vision.  The premise: a family of recently emigrated Puritans settles in the American wilderness after getting cast out by their settlement.  As things start going ill for their farm, they run afoul of a witch.

Bad things happen.

It's a good film.  The commitment to establishing sense of place and to authentically conveying the particular language and faith of the Puritans was excellent, and the pacing was remarkably deliberate.  The actors are uniformly well cast and solid.  It was smart, well-researched, and thoughtfully done.

Was it perfect?  No.  It wasn't really all that scary, although perhaps that's just jaded me.  The striking young ingenue at the center of the story was a genuinely fine actress, but she was...well...also evidently the only one of her family with access to modern era hair care products.

But what do I know?  Shining, perfect golden tresses are probably worth the extra effort during a week-long descent into hellish demonic madness.

And the woods, for all of their eerieness, were obviously not the forests of precolonial America.  Old growth don't look that way...not that there's much a director can do about that.

From a faith angle, I'm also sure that the film wasn't well received by actual witches, as it' design...a film that evokes the mortal horrors of the Pilgrims, who understood pagan traditions as inherently monstrous and demonic.  As an artistic choice, I get it, and appreciate it.  But I'm sure someone out there took offense.

But there was something else that struck me, as it often strikes me in the premises of films evoking supernatural horror.  The Christian characters were basically helpless, their whispered prayers nothing more than the feverish mutterings of a schizophrenic in the face of a genuinely supernatural foe.  That's part of the horror, I suppose, the idea that "faith" is meaningless and the only real power lies in the dark intent of gibbering, feral things.

To be honest, though, the "Christianity" of the characters was of the sort that's most likely to fail in a crisis.  They were hard, fierce, and proud.  They prayed without ceasing.  But what they were not was loving.

When they were pressed, their trust in one another came apart in a wave of mutual recriminations.  They did not find strength in one another, bear burdens for one another, and work under the fundamental assumption of the God-loved goodness of each other.

Faced with evil...even evil that can take our lives...that's the deepest magic of our faith.  It gives us cohesion, hope, and strength, up to and past the point when all else is lost.

Instead, suspicion and accusation reigned, and they devoured each other.  They were to each other as much a horror as the strange blood-hungry things in the woods.

Good thing Christians don't do that to one another now.