God’s Not Dead 2 – A Friendly Critique

Posted: April 11, 2016 by jperritt in Uncategorized

GodsNotDead2Poster
This past weekend, much of the southern region of the US was hit with pretty severe storms – some even had tornadic activity. A retreat center near Jackson, MS, sustained substantial damage. This resulted in multiple churches coming up with a “Plan B” for a retreat that was slatted there. As you’ve probably figured, we were one of the churches impacted by the closing of the retreat center.

Scripture tends to equate wisdom with reflection and moments of solitude, but sometimes God’s providence requires haste. In this case, our youth staff did what many assume youth workers do – scramble and throw things together last minute. We, no doubt, worked fast, but we also included our youth team – comprised of multiple adults – to add some extra wisdom to our efforts.

Working with only a few hours, we decided to take our students to pizza, dessert and a movie for Friday night. In many ways this seems like an easy solution, but picking a movie that multiple families and students agree upon is close to impossible (I’ve written about that here). The easiest choice for us was the film, God’s Not Dead 2. I say easiest, simply because I knew there was no “bad language”[1], violence, or sex.

The irony of making this decision comes from the fact that I have been somewhat of a critic of the “faith-based genre” of movies. One of my major critiques of these movies – apart from their typical poor artistic value – has been the poor theology they often communicate. To me, this is much more offensive than other content that could be present. However, I instructed our students that we were going to watch this movie in order to discuss it and possibly critique it. I told our students we could praise certain elements of the film and disagree with other elements.

I understand that critiquing “Christian movies” is becoming just as much of a cliché as many of the kitschy content found in the films themselves (More on that here). While this article will critique come of those elements, the aim of this article is the discipleship of the next generation of our church. How are we to train teenagers to view, analyze, criticize, and appreciate faith-based films with a discerning mind?

Christians Disagree

At the most basic level, I simply wanted our students to understand that there’s disagreement among Christians on these movies. I assume many of our students might not even realize that disagreement on faith-based movies is even taking place in the Christian community. One doesn’t have to spend much time searching the Internet to find Christians praising and bashing these movies.

Most likely, there are two groups of teenagers in your youth ministry – those who love these films and those who hate these films, but feel guilty about hating them. For the second group, they would much rather see Captain America: Civil War, but feel guilty that they desire to see a “secular” film over a “Christian” one. They think being a Christian means that they need to like GND2, so they inwardly feel guilty that they don’t really like it all that much. Then, when #TeamCap hits the silver screen they feel guilty for enjoying that movie more than a film like GND2.

Our students need to know that it’s okay to dislike a movie like this. Just like it’s okay to like a movie like this. I know there are plenty in Christian circles who would protest for saying we could even like a movie like GND2, but, as I found out, there are elements in the movie we can celebrate. Don’t misunderstand me, there is critique that is needed – which is simply an element of being a discerning viewer – but Christians, of all people, should know that if God’s common grace is seen in films like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice; surely God’s grace is powerful enough to shine through a movie like GND2.

Critique is Part of Our Humanity

In the second place, I wanted our students to understand that critiquing a movie is an aspect of watching any film. In my experience, Christians have acted quite defensively towards me when I’ve criticized the theology of films like Facing the Giants and War Room. As far as I could discern, the rebuke to my criticism seemed to imply that these films were above critique. How dare you speak negatively towards a “Christian movie”?!, seemed to be the mindset of this group.

Our students must realize that humanity is not above critique, because we are fallen. All art – as beautiful as it may be – is imperfect, this side of heaven. Christian movies are not above critique, just as an Oscar-winning film like The Revenant.

I truly enjoyed the very dark, and gritty film, The Revenant, however, director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, seemed to take just a bit of artistic liberty in places where it was unnecessary and could have been 20 minutes shorter. Not to mention that I felt that this wasn’t Leonardo Dicaprio’s best performance. It was a very physical performance for him, but I’m still unsure of it being Oscar-worthy (just for the record, I also think he was robbed in other films).

Point being, I can critique an Oscar-winning film, which is praised by Hollywood (and rightly so, I might add); therefore, Christians must not get too defensive over other Christians offering criticism of faith-based films. Our students need to develop a critical eye towards film instead of mindlessly sitting in a dark theater with a disengaged brain God expects them to steward.

Portrayal of Atheists

                  The major critique of GND2 – which others have pointed out – is its portrayal of atheists. To put it bluntly, they are villainized on the screen. They are portrayed as cold, harsh, unloving humans filled with hate. Even the countenances of some are instructive to the viewer of which side they are on before they even open their mouths.

As I told our students, I know some very nice unbelievers, just like I know some pretty unkind believers. We must be cautious of stereotyping people based on their beliefs. My question to our students was, Do you think an atheist would walk away from this movie with a different perspective? As I said, God can use whatever means he desires to bring a child of darkness into light, but I strongly doubt that a true atheist would walk away from this movie questioning their beliefs. In all likelihood, they would leave the theater even more ingrained in their own beliefs as well as the stereotypes they hold towards Christians.

Timidity 

I had great pause over this discipleship opportunity. To be honest, I was a bit fearful to take a group of students to a movie like this with the possibility of criticism. Would I offend one of my parents? Anger one of my students? Cause division? However, the driving force that fueled my passion for this exercise was 1 Timothy 4:16a, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Teenagers need to know that they always carry their theology with them. Life and theology are wed together and must not part. Their theology must inform their watching of movies, listening of music, clothes they wear, words they speak, and tone of their criticism.

I was timid to take on this practice, but the cost of avoiding it seemed too great. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Butterfield gives Christians some helpful critique to bring this discussion to a close:

Christians always seemed like bad thinkers to me.  It seemed that they could maintain their worldview only because they were sheltered from the world’s real problems…Christians always seemed like bad readers to me, too.  They appeared to use the Bible in a way that Marxists would call “vulgar” – that is, common, or in order to bring the Bible into a conversation to stop the conversation, not deepen it…It seemed to me that the only people who could genuinely be satisfied with this level of reading or thinking, were people who didn’t really read or think very much – about life or culture or anything.[2]


[1] I put bad language in quotes, because I’m using the term bad language in the way many Christians think; i.e., profanity. Even though there was language including gossip, judgment and self-righteousness in GND2 – language that’s equally offensive to God – at least they didn’t use profanity.

[2]Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. (Crown & Covenant Publications: 2014) pg. 4.

81st Academy Awards¨ Press Kit ImagesMost of us are familiar with the story of Aaron creating a golden calf for the people of Israel to worship. Aaron apparently made the calf by mistake – “I said to them, ‘Let any who have gold take it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf'” [Ex. 32:24]. Hollywood, however, has taken Arron’s lead and forged a golden statue of their own and given it the name ‘Oscar’. This little golden statue represents joy, sorrow, jealousy, anger, covetousness, and just about any emotion imaginable for Hollywood stars and starlets.

Even though I can’t remember the article or publication, I can remember reading Matt Damon’s reflections on his Oscar aspirations. He took a role in Courage Under Fire, which required him to lose a great deal of weight. Without the assistance of a personal trainer (he didn’t have extra cash because he wasn’t the powerhouse he is now), the pounds began to come off. He successfully lost a significant amount of weight, but the film and his acting didn’t get the recognition he hoped for. Plus, he saw a doctor after all the weight loss and he was informed that this rapid decrease in weight almost cost him his life.

It wasn’t until many years later that Damon won an Oscar for Screenplay in his 1997 Best Picture nominated film, Good Will Hunting. Even though I cannot recall his exact words, Damon states that his name was called out, he went onstage, received his little golden man and thought, Is this it? Is this what I’ve been longing for? Is this little golden statue what I almost gave my life for?

I don’t think Matt Damon is a Christian, but I honestly don’t know enough about his personal life to say one way or the other. However, he is illustrating the idolatry that we know is present in each of our hearts. Even though we may not be longing for an Oscar, we have our lists of little golden men. Maybe they come in the form of a new car, a bigger salary, a slimmer waistline, more vacations, or [fill-in-the-blank]. I’m not picking on Damon, because I really enjoy his films and he is like the rest of humanity. Plus, I’m glad that he saw the emptiness of his idol and I pray that he follows after the only One who is able to fill the void in his heart.

In just a few more days, many more golden statues will be passed out to Hollywood hopefuls. Maybe you’ll be cheering alongside these actors, actresses, and filmmakers with a similar desire for them to win. Maybe you won’t even tune in to see who takes home the prize.

Whether or not you care I think it is an important event for Christians to take note of, because it is a window into the heart of our culture. Whether we like to admit it or not, Hollywood wields a great deal of power. Actors and actresses have influence. And, on Oscar night, we get to see which films they think are noteworthy. They let us in on what they consider to be worthy art. We so often want to know what messages are being communicated through film and what truths resonate with this culture. Well, Oscar night takes much of what Hollywood holds dear to their heart and displays if for all to survey.

So go ahead and tune into the Oscars with a watchful eye. Learn a little bit about the culture we live in. And, see if it grants you greater opportunities to bring the Truth to bear in this, often, dark sphere of our culture.

Star Wars: A Spoiler-Free Reaction

Posted: December 18, 2015 by jperritt in Uncategorized

Star-Wars-7-The-Force-Awakens-Sith-Lightsaber-PhotoWell, I can’t believe I actually saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night. Part of me feels like it didn’t really happen. The nerds were out in full-force last night and I was one of them. It really was a great experience and a great movie. Everyone screamed and applauded at the credits, they applauded at the entrances of notable characters (and spaceships…wink, wink), and there were more than a few gasps. It was a worthy film to be added to the Star Wars cannon.

I must say, however, that a particular group of guys behind me almost ruined my experience. They were hyperventilating in a few parts – I’m not making this up! Screaming and hyperventilating. I didn’t know if Kylo Ren’s powers were having some sort of effect on them…they finally settled down…a little.

I think the best compliment I can give SW7 is that it felt like Star Wars. I remember when I saw Episode I in the theater, it felt like a different movie. There were elements that felt similar, but overall it just seemed like a totally different movie franchise. SW7, however, seemed to fit with episodes IV-VI.  It fits pretty seamlessly with the original series. Without a doubt, this one was far more updated – special effects, etc. But, J.J. Abrams did an excellent job of not overdoing it. The effects weren’t too much and the action wasn’t too much either.

Think about it, by 2015 most of us have seen various spaceships don the silver screen. We’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy and over-the-top action films with insane stunts. Abrams held back on some of that. Even his Star Trek reboots had modernized action, but he didn’t over-do it with SW7. Yes, there was plenty of excitement and plenty of updated action sequences, but he held back in order to make this film fit with the other three – that’s good directing.

I do think there will be a newer generation that isn’t as enthralled by this film, because they’ve been spoiled on CGI and insane-action. In all seriousness, if you don’t enjoy this movie it’s because you’re spoiled. (Or, either you’re not a fan of sci-fi which means you shouldn’t even be watching this film.)

I also thought the story and new characters were intriguing. From the opening credits of SW7 the story grabs you. Again, there were some gasps as people read the context of Episode 7. I love how secretive this film has been – I can’t believe they’ve maintained to keep a tight lid on things.

The new characters in the film meshed well with the old. I was pretty impressed with Harrison Ford being able to channel his inner-Han at age 73. I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be for an actor to portray a character they created some 40-years prior. Yet, Ford spoke dialogue, had mannerisms, and even facial expressions that reminded me of Han – my childhood hero (second to Indiana Jones).

So, these are just a few initial, spoiler-free reactions to the movie. It really was enjoyable and maintained continuity with the previous films. Don’t go in thinking you’re going to see a Best Picture nomination, just go in expecting to have fun. As I emphasized grace yesterday, be sure to enjoy that aspect. Going to see a movie like this is historic, so it’s a special experience to say the least. And, it’s an experience that reminds us of God’s grace on his children. God gives and gives so much to his creation. He doesn’t owe us a thing, but he gives us fun experiences like visiting a galaxy far, far away….

Star Wars…Finally!!!

Posted: December 16, 2015 by jperritt in Uncategorized

MV5BMjM4MjI2MDMwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODI2MDgzMzE@._V1__SX1394_SY676_Hello…hello…is this thing on?

So, it’s been months since we’ve posted anything at Reel Thinking.  Sorry about that, but life gets sort of busy. However, if there’s anything that will motivate us at RT to knock some dust of the keyboard and write a new post, it’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens (That opens tomorrow, by the way).

In some ways it seems like the first teaser trailer dropped to the Internet just yesterday. I can remember that I found a quiet spot at my in-laws house to sneak off and watch that uninterrupted over Thanksgiving holidays.  My eyes were amazed at the re-imagined Star Wars universe J.J. Abrams had created.  I can’t wait to see the finished product tomorrow night.

To be honest, I’m bit sad.  I’m not on the verge of tears or anything, but the hype we’ve been enjoying over the past year is about to be over.  It’s sort of like going on a long trip.  Part of the fun of the trip is the anticipation of it.  Living the trip is great, but imagining the trip and anticipating it has its own special feeling.  Tomorrow around 9:30ish that feeling will be over.  My eyes will have seen it.  My ears will have heard light-sabers colliding and blasters firing.  Right now, I haven’t allowed my mind to anticipate too much of the story, but tomorrow it will be realized.

Now of course I plan on seeing the movie twice…possibly three…times in the theater.  So, the story of The Force Awakens will continue to be told on the silver screen and small screen for years to come.  I guess I’m simply trying to say that tomorrow is a unique and special moment for the cinema.  Star Wars!!! A film that’s impossible to grasp its impact on the cinematic world is revisiting screens this weekend.

The fact that I’m going with my father says a lot.  Star Wars is a film that’s united generations in their excitement.  My son turns 6 on December 18 and I plan to take him to see it (I tried to convince him that I got Star Wars made for his birthday…he’s too smart).  Three generations of Perritts viewing SW.

I’m excited to see it.  I’m excited to see it with my father.  I’m excited to see it with my oldest two children.  It may only be a movie, but it’s something special we don’t need to downplay.  It’s an experience that’s global and rarely comes around.

Anyway, there’s not to much to this post other than sharing my excitement (I may share a bit more after viewing, so check back).  I figured that I “owned” a film blog, so I might as well discuss one of the most historic films released.  As Christians we do need to recognize these moments as graces from God.  We sinned against him, yet God still blesses his children with enjoyable moments this side of Heaven. He’s a gracious Father and movies are one of the many blessings that illustrate that.

Trailer Tuesday: The Jungle Book

Posted: September 15, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

Check out the new trailer for Disney’s upcoming live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book

Gut Reaction: A Spoiler-Free Interview on THE VISIT

Posted: September 11, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

MV5BMTg3OTM2OTc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMxNDM0NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_Last night I attended the premiere screening of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Visit. Today, John and I sat down (at our keyboards) for a spoiler-free interview on my gut reaction to the film. I’ll be writing a more thorough review for Reel World Theology soon, so stay tuned over there for further developments.

 

John Perritt: First off, what’s your favorite Shyamalan film?

 

Blaine Grimes: I’m really terrible at naming my favorite films, but I’m gonna have to go with Unbreakable. It’s a really smart take on the superhero movie.

 

JP: What’s your initial impression of The Visit? What did you like? What did you hate?

 

BG: I really disliked The Visit. I think it is definitely one of his weaker films, which is sad; I really wanted it to be good. There are a couple of elements that work really well in the film, though. First, Ed Oxenbould is fantastic. His character is hilarious, and the film’s best moments happen when he is on screen. Second, there are parts of this film that are genuinely spooky, but it’s really difficult to talk about those without spoiling. So I’ll leave it there for now.

I think the main problem with The Visit is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. It tries to be a comedy-horror-melodrama, but these elements never mesh together in an effective way. There are also several dangling plot devices that are quite annoying.

 

JP: Could you tell you were watching a Shyamalan film? Were many of his previous stylistic/thematic elements present?

 

BG: Well, this certainly isn’t his first terrible film; so some of his recurring issues made an appearance. For instance, I think The Visit lacks some of the Hitchcockian subtlety of his better films. On the other hand, he’s still exploring some of his favorite themes here: family, forgiveness, loss, and grief.

 

JP: How did it differ from his other work?

 

BG: The main way it differs is that I’ve never seen him intentionally play with comedy to this extent. I mean, The Happening is a hilarious movie, but it’s not intended as such. The Visit has some real laugh-out-loud moments. I also think it’s different from his previous work in that I’ve never seen one of his films that is so tonally confused (see earlier question).

 

JP: How would you “fix” the film?

 

BG: That’s a hard question to answer without giving too much away, but I’ll take a stab at it. Really, not much happens in the film. The build is lackluster, and the so-called twist isn’t much of one. I think Shyamalan is trying to play with the idea that normal, everyday life can be frightening, but the bodily humor that is so prevalent throughout the film is a hindrance as far as that goes.

 

JP: Do you think The Visit will help or hurt Shyamalan’s career?

 

BG: Well, there are two parts to my answer. In the short-term, I actually think this film will be fairly successful. I think it’ll find its target audience, and it will probably do quite well at the box office. This will likely lead to more movie deals for Shyamalan. As far as the long-term goes, that remains to be seen; but I will be very surprised if it’s looked upon favorably in the distant future.

 

 

 

 

MV5BMTg3OTM2OTc5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjMxNDM0NTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_M. Night Shyamalan returns to the big screen this week with the found-footage creeper, The Visit; and one question looms large: will The Visit resurrect Shyamalan’s once-promising career? While I suppose that only time will tell, I am—in the meantime—more curious about how Shyamalan’s latest effort will fit into his horror canon that, I contend, embodies its creator’s search for the spiritual and transcendent. Shyamalan is, after all, known for his cameos in his films. And while some chalk this up to the director’s desire to solidify his oft-spoken-of comparisons to Hitchcock (and there may be a certain degree of truth to this claim), I tend to think that there is a sense in which Shyamalan appears in his films precisely because they are already about him, a creative outpouring of his deeply personal investigation of the spiritual and metaphysical realm.

Shyamalan’s horror breakthrough came in 1999 with The Sixth Sense. His remarkable display of cinematic restraint, his refusal to immediately satiate our desires to see the spirits that haunt Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) , made manifest his understanding of the Hitchcokian principle that what is unseen is often more terrifying than the visible. At its core, however, The Sixth Sense is a film obsessed with finding comfort in the fact that loved ones have a life after death.

Signs (2002), which masquerades as an alien-invasion flick, is all about Graham Hess’s (Mel Gibson) crisis of faith that comes about as a result of his wife’s untimely death. It grapples with issues of belief and unbelief in a markedly earnest manner that is so often missing from so-called faith-based films.

The Village (2004) is set in cultic/religious community and explores one woman’s faith and courage in the face of the Hawthornesque deception perpetrated by the town’s leaders. More recently, Shyamalan’s Wayward Pines television show (which was quite good until its disastrous final episode) carries with it an implicit critique of organized religion and a Calvinistic understanding of God. Given the religious nature of Shyamalan’s entires into the genre thus far, it seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that his latest film will revisit (pun intended) many of these themes.

On a larger scale, however, Shyamalan’s cinema shows that Horror is an intrinsically spiritual genre that reveals our deepest fears and longings. Some horror films—slasher flicks, for instance, which have often been read as a conservative reaction to the metaphysical implications of premarital sex—prefer to explore spiritual themes and motifs in a (thinly) veiled manner, while others (see It Follows) are more content to let their inherent religiosity bubble to the surface.[1] The films of M. Night Shyamalan are, in my opinion, firmly grounded in the latter category; and Christians would do well to pay attention.


  1. This statement is somewhat reductionistic. I recognize that horror films are not a monolith, and my goal here isn’t to create a classification system for the genre. My aim here is to illustrate my earlier point about the spiritual nature of horror films.  ↩

Jesus Goes to the Movies: An Interview with Joel Mayward

Posted: August 11, 2015 by Blaine Grimes in Uncategorized

51n20MXJmxL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_A large part of our goal here at Reel Thinking is to help Christians think critically about the movies they watch, and part of reaching this goal means that we like to draw your attention to helpful books and resources. To that end , I present the following interview with Joel Mayward about his new book, Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide.

• Your new book is called Jesus Goes to the Movies: The Youth Ministry Film Guide. Tell us a little more about the book and what you set out to accomplish in it.

Joel Mayward: Jesus Goes to the Movies is the result of my intersecting passions for ministry, theology, and film. I wanted to create a resource to pastors, parents, youth workers, and young people that would be both accessible and theological, helping them think deeper about both movies and Jesus. Part One of the book is a theological guide for movie-watching, with chapters on how to thinking theologically about movies, understanding worldviews, and a brief history of the relationship between the church and Hollywood. Part Two offers 50 film discussion guides for using in a small group setting.

• Why is it important for youth to engage with films on a deeper level? 

Joel Mayward: I think films and filmmakers are the primary stories and story-tellers of our era, and this generation of young people are inundated with a plethora of on-screen ideas. Learning how to have discernment, to think critically, and to engage with art and entertainment in ways that are healthy and wise are necessary disciplines for everyone, but particularly for teens and young adults. I’m convinced how we approach art and film is a significant part of our discipleship process, and our habits in both movie-watching and Jesus-following often mirror each other. In this book, I’m more interested in teaching young people how to think about movies and their faith, not just what movies Christians should watch or avoid.

• The subtitle of your book is, The Youth Ministry Film Guide. How do you envision your book being used outside of youth ministry circles?  

Joel Mayward: Even though youth workers are the book’s primary audience, I think anyone who is interested in movies and Christian spirituality will find it to be a helpful and engaging resource. It’s accessible, funny, and thought-provoking. If you’re a parent, a teen, a college student, a pastor, or if you just like movies, this book is for you!

• How did you decide which movies to analyze in your book? 

Joel Mayward: Great question! I wanted to address the films young people were already watching, as well as point them to films they should be watching, offering spiritual ideas and theological questions to both popular and less-seen films. I believe there are over 250 movies listed in the book’s index, ranging from 1920s silent films to the latest Mad Max movie, and all sorts of genres—action, comedy, horror, drama, romance, sci-fi, and (of course) teen movies. The discussion guides range from Pixar films to The Hunger Games to Babette’s Feast to The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

• How can someone get a copy of your book and find your other work?

Joel Mayward: You can find Jesus Goes to the Movies on Amazon.com or through the publisher, The Youth Cartel. I just started a new website for my film reviews and writings, Cinemayward.com, and you can follow me on Twitter: @JoelMayward or @Cinemayward.

photo 3I recently wrote an article for Christ and Pop Culture Magazine. Today, the article is out from behind its paywall, and you can read it for FREE over at the site. Here is an excerpt:

Week after week in the summertime, hordes of people crowd into their local movie theaters to catch the latest blockbuster. Families gather in the living room to escape the blistering heat and watch their favorite movie. In the cold winter months, holiday films and Oscar contenders stand in the spotlight. Indeed, the year-round frequency with which the consuming of fictive narrative films occurs marks it as an important and powerful ritual—not some banal or insignificant activity to merely pass the time or escape from the world around us; for film is a remarkably influential medium. It is admittedly easy to lose sight of this fact in the midst of our movie watching, in which it can become customary for Christians to think of films exclusively as prepackaged objects that contain redemptive themes for us to mine out and discover.

Head on over and check it it out!

MV5BMTQzMjM2NjM1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDM1MjQyNTE@._V1__SX1394_SY669_In the midst of the (well-earned) hubbub about Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the buzz surrounding not-so-Fantastic Four, comes The Gift, a sly little film with an unassuming title that just so happens to be one of the best mystery/suspense pictures released in the past few years. It forsakes the sexiness of Gone Girl and The Guest in favor of something much more terrifying: realism. Moreover, The Gift displays a level of cinematic self-awareness and maturity that, though commendable in and of its own right, is especially remarkable given that it marks the directorial debut of Joel Edgerton (who also wrote the screenplay and stars in the film). At its core, the film is a marital drama obsessed with sins of the past.

Simon (Jason Bateman ) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) seem like your average couple. They buy a new house, move in, and plan to start a family. One day, while making a run to a homeware store, Simon meets Gordo (Edgerton), a long-lost high school acquaintance. But the problem is that Gordo seems a little obsessed with Simon and Robyn; creepiness ensues, and the veil is lifted on the couple’s ostensibly happy marriage.

The truly delightful thing about The Gift is that it takes a highly subversive turn just as it heads for rote stalker film territory. Edgerton’s camerawork reinforces the narrative turn: he is not afraid to use jump-scares (there are some good ones) and then, a scene later, make you squirm in your seat as his camera lingers too long. In short, adrenaline junkies will have their fill.

Perhaps as much as anything else, however, The Gift is an insightful meditation on the long-term consequences of sin and wrongdoing. “The sins of the past will become your present,” the trailer says. Alas, however, is not possible to discuss this thematic consideration in much detail without spoiling, so suffice it to say that the words of the Psalmist—which I leave here as enticement—figure prominently in the film:

Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. He makes a pit, digging it out,and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. (Psalm 7:14–16)