Exorcising THE UNHOLY and the Enormous Importance of Christian Horror

This past Easter, Sony released The Unholy, Evan Spilitopoulos’ debut film. Based on a book called Shrine, the film deals with Catholic notions of miracles, the Virgin Mary and the duality of good and evil. We were fortunate enough to help promote the film here at Dread Central. Therefore, I cannot in good conscience review it. But I do want to talk about its themes, and why Christian horror’s comeback is a great thing for cinema.

The Unholy Elephant in the Room

Let’s get things out of the way: I liked The Unholy. I can’t review it, as I said, but I did like it. It scared me. It resonated with me. It’s not a perfect film. The CGI isn’t amazing. It treads familiar ground. But it has amazing performances, and the themes are incredibly relevant. You can now enjoy it in select theaters, etc. You know the drill.

So, there it is. With that taken care of, let’s talk about Christian horror and why it matters, shall we?

The Exorcist and its Legacy

It’s been almost half a century since The Exorcist first terrified the world, but its legacy is as powerful today as it was in the 1970s. Many people still cite it as the scariest film they’ve ever seen. Indeed, there are many more people who are scared of The Exorcist than there are Catholics in the world. And this is an important point.

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You see, what The Exorcist proved is that you do not need to be Catholic to be scared by it. Its themes are universal, and the terror it imparts knows know religion or creed. The universality of its impact showed once and for all that humankind shares an almost primal set of fears which can be experienced by virtually anyone. If you’re Catholic, though, things get even more interesting.

Catholicism, Former Practitioners and Representation of Christian Horror

I was raised Catholic. Though I no longer practice the faith, it is intrinsically linked to who I am. My whole family practices still. Therefore, when a film like The Unholy comes around, I almost feel like it was made for me. As if the film was created for me to face my fears.

The same thing happened when The Exorcism of Emily Rose released in 2005. To this day, that is the film which scared me the most. Ever. Jennifer Carpenter’s performance was physical, visceral and downright terrifying. When it comes to resonating with these films, I’m not alone: there are over 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. And if you count all Christian denominations, you can more than double that.

Mesmerizing. Terrifying. Absolutely incredible. – The first possession scene in The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Once you start taking this into consderation, you realize how important it is for Christian horror to occur in cinema. From a representation point of view, Christian horror showcases the traditions of over a quarter of the population of this planet.

But as with any good example of representation, Christian horror isn’t tokenistic. It transcends beliefs and cultures. It’s a laser-focused tool to unleash general, universal, unbridled fear. That’s why I love it, and I cannot wait to see the way in which we’ll get possessed next.



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