Back in 2008, I asked the question “Is Christian Horror Becoming a Trend?” The “horror” label has always posed problems for Christian writers, publishers, and filmmakers. Terms like “thriller” or “supernatural suspense” are far more manageable when dealing with anything potentially “faith-based.” Part of the perceived incongruity of those two words — “Christian” and “horror” — is that within pop-cultural circles, Christian films and fiction have come to mean “inspirational,” “hopeful,” and “family-friendly.” Which is why portraying evil and horror have become problematic for the Christian artist.
Nevertheless, the genre of “Christian horror” appears to continue its trending.
The most recent evidence is Casey La Scala’s The Remaining, releasing this week in theaters. La Scala’s credits include the cult classic “Donnie Darko,” the horror remake “Amityville: The Awakening,” and one of the most influential, groundbreaking faith films ever made, “A Walk to Remember.”
Diabolique Magazine, in their interview with La Scala, sets up his story like this:
At this point in time, despite there being a rich history of films within the horror genre that rely on Christian ideology as a starting point, few horror films have purported to be “faith-based.” Faith is often a place of departure, used either to justify the existence of the supernatural, or as a point of contention. The films that have been released with the expressed intention of carrying a Christian doctrine—films like The Lock In and Left Behind—have failed to find crossover appeal. However, in the past year, there appears to be a growing movement in Hollywood to present “faith-based” stories. Of these films, Casey La Scala’s The Remaining emerges as one of the more unique titles. A self-professed balance between the faith-based world and the secular mainstream world, La Scala’s horror-thriller has already been generating a strong response in the faith-based community.
La Scala is not the first Christian filmmaker to affirm the intersection of the “Christian” and “horror” genres, Scott Derrickson, director of The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Deliver Us from Evil, currently being one of the most prominent. Interestingly, while La Scala is clearly seeking crossover appeal, he set about aiming first at the faith community, pitching the film to Sony Affirm films, producers of faith-friendly projects like “Fireproof” and distributor for movies like “Soul Surfer” and “Mom’s Night Out.” Unsurprisingly, the studio hedged.
In his article Faith Film to Scare the “Hell” Out of Audiences WND editor Drew Zahn writes,
“‘The Remaining’ has a lot of Christian themes; would this be embraced by faith-based community?” La Scala recalled. “They didn’t know. I argued [faith consumers] would be interested in something like this, because when you look at ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ it’s technically a horror movie. It’s a faith-based horror movie. That’s what it is.”
The Remaining chronicles the day of the Rapture — an event many Christians believe will transpire shortly before the Great Tribulation in which all true believers are taken to heaven — and the ensuing apocalypse.
Picking up in the Bible’s Revelation, Chapters 8 and 9, “The Remaining” depicts the angels’ trumpets of judgment: hail and fire falling from the sky, and even more terrifying, the release of demonic “locusts,” with thundering wings and teeth like lions and stings like scorpions.
Indeed, some of the most visceral horrific images found in Scripture are found in the back of the book. (As a side note: I was raised to believe, and still do, that the events described in the Book of the Revelations are mostly literal. So I was surprised to learn that many Christians eschew such a position, many holding to a preterist view of eschatology, that the events of Revelation have already occurred in some form. La Scala then is clearly aiming at the more traditional evangelical wing of the church that interprets Revelations literally.)
But perhaps the trickiest part of this feat is what the Diaboloque author described as “balance between the faith-based world and the secular mainstream world.” Says La Scala:
“…the process was trying to turn that script into something that could stand up to the evangelical debate. I started inputting the rules, and trying to tell the story a way that really followed everything Biblical.”
To me, this is one of the most fascinating angles on such endeavors, trying to write something that will “stand up to the evangelical debate.” Really, what stands between the “Christian” and “horror” genres is not a lack of biblical precedence for horror, the macabre, the monstrous, and the depraved.
“The Bible is full of horror tales,” La Scala’s co-writer on the project, Chris Dowling, told WND. “If you want to read something scary, read Revelation. It’s not a far cry to read Revelation and go, ‘Wow, this sounds straight out of a horror film.’ That’s why it made sense [to make this movie].”
In fact, what stands between “Christian horror” and mainstream audiences is “the evangelical debate.” That “debate” is the same one Darren Aronofsky’s Noah faced about how true to Scripture the story stays. There’s no question but that “The Bible is full of horror tales.” The only real issue is whether or not Christian audiences want only what is “inspirational” and “family-friendly.”