By: Addison Wylie
I go out of my way to see faith-based movies – I’m oddly obsessed with them. Not because of the beliefs and not necessarily for the theatregoing experience itself, but because for two-hours, I get a glimpse into a whole other world. A world where prayer can be described as the only reliable resource and be discussed as a way to salvation, and problems can be solved by asking the lord for help. It’s just so jarring. As an outsider, I kind of enjoy being a fish-out-of-bible and quietly observing. As an opinionated film critic, these faith-based flicks challenge me, and I graciously accept.
Alex Kendrick sometimes makes watching these movies difficult though because his filmmaking abilities are far from subtle. After all, his latest film War Room features lots of tearful monologues including one where leading lady Priscilla C. Shirer prays to God and then verbally denounces the devil – ordering Satan to stop corrupting her marriage. The filmmaker’s stiff handling of faith and his procedurally graceless screenwriting makes me feel as if he’s imposing too much on the audience. A big flaw a devout director can accidentally execute is the mistake of forgetting about the movie’s story and thrusting its religious backbone forward.
While War Room is the most persistently religious film I’ve seen as of late, it didn’t upset nor offend me like Kendrick’s Fireproof did – a film that pussyfooted its way around a lot of important conversations, and expelled the idea of communication between a husband and wife. The story doesn’t entirely depend on Christianity and could actually stand separately as an inoffensive and forgettable Tyler Perry knock-off.
War Room wants to convince you that what you’re seeing is because of God and the power of prayer, but these pivotal changes in the story could work just as well as if they were simply serendipitous or coincidental. This doesn’t undercut the characters’ faith. It just means that War Room’s core audience can enjoy it, and non-believers are just going to shrug off whatever they don’t connect with, and attach themselves to it in another way. To be honest, I kind of admire that about Kendrick’s movie – War Room doesn’t turn anyone away.
In terms of quality, War Room doesn’t win any technical merits. Bob M. Scott’s cinematography resembles corporate video cutaways, while Steve Hullfish and Alex Kendrick’s editing can’t find a rhythm during scenes of explanations. The performances are ham-fisted during moments of strife and distress, but the actors find ways to warm up the audience during phases of forgiveness – even though the dialogue (written by Alex and Stephen Kendrick) is outrageously sentimental and schmaltzy.
Movie goers are most likely going to be leaving the film smiling from Karen Abercrombie’s heartfelt portrayal as Miss Clara, but the elderly character was too pushy for me. Personally, I felt Abercrombie was overcompensating in personality to make up for how dry the dialogue is. But boy, oh boy, can she command a scene with her booming voice. She has a vocal range that truly surprised me and held my attention.
So, just to recap, what we have here is a film that isn’t bad, but it’s far from good. It preaches to the choir of its guaranteed audience (no pun intended), meanwhile non-believers will forget about the movie by dusk. War Room makes you roll your eyes, and then finds a way to slightly win you back. It’s a wishy-washy yet harmless way to spend your time, and I’ll leave you with that.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie