War Room (2015)
A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Alex Kendrick
Written by: Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick
Produced by: Alex Kendrick, Stephen Kendrick, Gary Wheeler.
Starring: Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings, Karen Abercrombie.
Disclaimer: It is very difficult to review this movie without speaking from where I’m coming from, so this review will have a bias.
Oh, boy, being a film critic in Nebraska. I have to wait three weeks after it opens in theaters to get a film like MISTRESS AMERICA, or several months for THE LOOK OF SILENCE, but we get all of the should be straight-to-DVD fundamentalist movies in theaters, and we get them promptly. It would be one thing if these movies were well-made, or well-acted; they rarely are. That’s really the big thing, they’re poorly made films that more often than not, have some of the most misguided politics movies can offer; it doesn’t make a difference to me that these movies have a Religious lean. Movies have had Christian messages or Christian imagery or Christian symbolism and have been good, plenty have been terrific, and quite a few have been classics.
I don’t know where to even begin with WAR ROOM, the latest film from the Kendrick brothers. I haven’t seen any of their previous films, somehow. They were making movies prior to the Religious movie boom and this is the first film they’ve made since Religious movies have been getting produced in larger quantities and by bigger studios. This is an artless movie with some of the worst philosophy I’ve seen in these Religious films. This was a long sit, this is one hour of movie padded into two. I don’t think the Kendrick’s have particularly malicious intent, but they are so misguided that it doesn’t make much of a difference. This is one of the most unintentionally patriarchal films that I’ve seen in a while.
Elizabeth Jordan (Priscalla Shirer) is in an unhappy marriage. Her husband (T.C. Stallings) is verbally abusive, he freely cheats on her, he’s broken multiple laws, he’s dismissive of his child; he is generally a horrible person. While at work she meets Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), who she, for the sake of the script, strikes up a relationship with. Eventually the discussion turns to her marriage, and that’s when this movie gets really messy.
Liz is told that she’s to blame for their marriage, that she needs to forgive him, submit, and let ‘God take the wheel.’ Let’s get into this: realistically, this makes the situation worse. You can pray for your husband, you can pray for yourself, but you should remove him from the situation, as this guy in this movie is portrayed as having been a negative influence on his wife, as having been a negative influence on his kid. They don’t even have to get divorced, have him move out, go to counseling, go to therapy, consider a separation. Of course there’s one thing all of those suggestions have in common, they would have required this character to stick up for herself.
So, maybe this is a spoiler, but by the time this happens the movie isn’t even half over and it factors into my next point. So after Liz prays for some time, her husband; whilst in the process of getting ready to cheat on her, just when he’s about to seal the deal he gets food poisoning. Now, I’m going to try and understand what the filmmakers were trying to do here, and eloquently explain why my brain hates this so much. Ok, so you want to put divine intervention in your movie; you could write that the husband has a change of heart and opts not to go home with this woman, you could maybe even have him get a call from his job that forces him to leave. Giving him food poisoning is a real half-measure, for all the audience knows he went and cheated anyway.
This movie ends anywhere from three to five different times. You could have easily cut this film down to 80 minutes. There’s a jump rope competition midway through, and even in my showing filled with people that were otherwise enthusiastic about the movie, this 20 minute jump rope competition was met with dead silence. It doesn’t matter if it was a single sentence mentioned by a tertiary character in passing, a line that you’d miss if you blinked, nothing in this movie goes unresolved.
Let’s talk about something, and said something is not limited to Christianity. That is the use of militaristic rhetoric. It’s scary, and it is scary no matter which group you are with. Now somebody might be a part of this said group would say “oh, you’re just scared because we’re going to change the world for the better!” Incorrect. I get scared by this militaristic rhetoric because it sounds like you’re about to go bomb somebody. I’d like to say that has nothing to do with the movie, but it’s such a big part that I would be wrong. The Christians are not the only ones doing it, therefore; liberal activists, Jesus lovers. Stop it, please.
I have a habit of seeing a lot of Religious movies for these reviews. Often times, I know what I’m getting into, but thrice now I have walked into one of these movies, sat down, watched it, and wrote about it. They are among the more unpredictable films you can see in cinemas right now, and some of the most surprisingly shoddily made. But why bother? Some of it is curiosity, curiosity about these films, many of which have a non-existent advertising budget. These films also are some of the only movies out right now that portray a different perspective. I digress, WAR ROOM was a tough sit. It had an arc structure like a David Lynch film, I could never tell when this was reaching its conclusion. The acting was bizarre, all of the actors were so incredibly wooden that it was almost like they were all supposed to be aliens. The blocking was astonishing, there’s one scene where Liz and Miss Clara are confronted by a mugger and for a solid minute, you can see him waiting behind a truck for the cue to jump out at them. This was a long two hours.