I am biased towards Christian artists. Especially those working in the secular marketplace. I want them to succeed.
Which is one reason I’ve been following Scott Derrickson’s career with interest. Derrickson is a director with some significant films to his credit. I first took interest after watching The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a well-crafted, truly frightening and thought-provoking film. Derrickson has been outspoken about his faith but savvy enough, and fluent enough in the craft, to gain the respect of insiders.
His latest film, Deliver Us From Evil, is getting a lot of press. It’s another foray into the horror genre and its intersection with biblical themes, in this case exorcism and the reality of the devil. In his review at Christianity Today, Nick Olson summarizes the idea behind Deliver Us From Evil this way:
“…evil involves spiritual forces beyond human agency”
Even though “the materialist skeptic and the fundamentalist have unwittingly conspired to seal existence air-tight,” writes Olson, Derrickson’s film has lent “some fresh air” to the subject. Or as his article sub-heading puts it, “The biggest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing us he didn’t exist.”
Needless to say, I’ve been anticipating this film.
So I was a bit bummed when the reviews started coming in. At Rotten Tomatoes, Deliver Us From Evil is not doing well. As I write this, it has a 30% critical rating.
I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment on the fairness / unfairness of those reviews. Nor do I treat critical reviews as gospel. But I was quite intrigued by this Tweet from the director last night.
Reviews were either laudatory or filled with that sort of anger which tells an author he’s hit his target- CS Lewis on The Screwtape Letters
— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) July 3, 2014
I must admit, I was a little taken aback by the insinuation here. If I’m not mistaken, Derrickson may be suggesting that the negative critical reviews are evidence that the themes of his film are, in fact, in play. Evil is reacting to its exposure. In other words, “The devil made me review it.”
Now, let me make a hard right.
Another film opens this week — totally different in genre and intent, but nevertheless under-girded by similar “Christian” components.
Dinesh D’Souza is openly Christian, writing books like What’s So Great About Christianity and Life After Death: The Evidence. Even more notable may be D’Souza’s conservative political aims and outspoken critique of President Obama and what he perceives as the moral / spiritual collapse of America. His new film America: Imagine the World Without Her continues that trend.
Other than professing to be believers, I doubt that Derrickson and D’Souza have much else in common.
Except that both their films are getting hammered.
Once again, the early reviews at Rotten Tomatoes place America at 25%. Some reviewers are even going to the extent of suggesting it is “The Worst Political Documentary Of All-Time.” This reviewer displays his objectivity with statements like the following:
D’Souza is an obnoxious personality on film: often wearing bleached mom jeans and multi-colored thrift shop polo shirts, he speaks condescendingly slow so that the cheap seats can hear him nice and clearly. His speech has the sort of halting, faux-intellectual cadence that makes you wish you were more of a bully in high school.
Of course, such vitriol has led many supporters of D’Souza, his faith, politics, and patriotism, to suggest that the film’s poor critical reviews are due to reviewer bias. Like Deliver Us From Evil, it’s “that sort of anger which tells an author he’s hit his target.”
Other than the obvious issue — How far should artists go to defend their work and answer their critics? — the dove-tailing of these films and their critical reception poke at some rather raw, unanswered questions about spiritual content in the secular marketplace. Some of those questions would be…
Is there a bias against spiritual art? Do atheistic gatekeepers conspire to suppress the Christian message and keep it from or disparage it for mainstream audiences? Are Christian artists unjustly targeted for censure in ways that others aren’t? Is there a double standard in the marketplace when it comes to religious and “secular” (or anti-religious) rhetoric? Is “agenda” just as prevalent in the general market as the religious market? Do religious and/or conservative points of view get an unfair shake? Do Christian artists get unfairly reviewed?
It could be argued that these are two very different films with totally different alliances and points-of-view. Granted.They may be better juxtaposed than aligned. Nevertheless, D’Souza, like Derrickson, could blame the negative reviews not on the actual quality of their product, but the bias of the reviewers. In Derrickson’s case that could be secularists and materialists who are simply annoyed with the insinuation of real evil. In D-Souza’s case, it is secularists and anti-Christian liberals who are opposed to his message.
In this way, the two films and their filmmakers may be targets.
My point here is not to endorse (or pan) either film, but to simply ask whether the artists’ beliefs or their film’s point-of-view make them unfair targets to critics.