The line: The struggle picking a film in October

This time of year is a struggle for me as a film critic. With Halloween around the corner, the primary films available are horror films. Throughout the years of writing reviews, there are films that some people might not desire to see or they may question if I should be watching them at all. Discernment in this industry is always a challenge, because of the wide range of films available each year. 

Personally, the genre that lacks any appeal to me is horror. A beloved genre for many, but not this writer. Come on, I still have nightmares from the creepy Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There are a few films within this realm of cinema that draws me in and those that do are the exception to the norm. Many readers may assume that someone who reviews movies should like them all of the categories, but this is not the case. Some reviewer friends dislike superhero films, others cannot handle romantic comedies, but for me, my aversion is to most horror films and franchises. 

For those who regularly read the reviews on Reel Dialogue, it is not hard to guess that horror films rarely make it on the ‘must see’ lists. Despite this cinematic aversion, the horror genre does open the door to a question that gets asked of me regularly. 

How do I determine ‘the line’ for what films that I might see or might not see? 

This article is not meant to spoil anyone’s fun or love of film, but to challenge people to think deeper about the movies they should watch in cinemas or on television.

Most of the content is based on an article by Brett McCracken’s book Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism & Liberty (Baker, 2013).

These basic questions are worth considering before going to see a film.

1. What does the Bible have to say about discernment? 

The first place for Christians to go is the Bible. When it was written, the film industry did not exist, but the wisdom still holds true today. 

Romans 14: 1-4,13-15 – As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 

This portion of the Apostle Paul’s writings shows that your choices do not occur in the vacuum or personal bubble. Considering that your entertainment choices impact those around you. Generally, most people attend a film with someone else. What movie you choose may be a personal thing, but it is still worth looking at how it affects others. 

1 Corinthians 6:12  “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 

These words state clearly that even if the films you choose are legally acceptable, that does not mean that they are always good for your spiritual or emotional well-being.  

2. What is your weakness? What is too far for you?

We all have different issues that cause us to fail or another word could be to sin. There are obvious things that should be considered by all, but people need to understand what is ‘too far’.

Personally, I cannot go to a film with excessive nudity/sex or that contain extreme horror elements. This content triggers things in my mind that is not healthy. For others, there might be other things to consider. 

3. What are the weaknesses in your community? 

Watching a film is usually a community experience. It is worth considering what might be an issue for those you take with you to the cinema. What are the problems of those you go with to the cinema? How do you know? Ask them. It is amazing how this simple question can save you from damaging a relationship or finding yourself in an embarrassing situation. 

4. Is it beneficial? 

This is not a hard question for most, because film viewing may not be a high priority. For those who love film, it is worth taking into consideration. Could the time at the cinema be better spent doing other things? 

5. Has the filmmaker earned the right? 

Due to some objectionable material, not all MA15 (R) rated films are bad. Sometimes, like the Bible, the story contains things that allow the artistic benefit to outweigh the rough content. There can be a purpose for the potentially objectionable material.  

The Passion of the Christ, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Gladiator, Schindler’s List are all examples of films that contain mature material that is worth engaging.

6. Have you prayed about it?

“Everything that is debatable or questionable must be taken first to prayer.” – Rebecca McSparren from LA Film Studies Centre

This may seem strange and the last thing that you might do prior to going to see a film, but maybe it should be the first thing you do. Why not ask God about this film. 

That is it, these simple questions may help you to determine The Line. 

You might ask: Isn’t that quite a bit to consider before going into a movie? Doesn’t that take the fun out of it all?

That is not the goal, but let me ask you something else. Is it better to think about these things before going to the cinemas as opposed to not going through these steps and having to walk out due to the content of a film or having to apologise to someone for taking them to this film? 

On the other side of the discussion, these steps could allow you to see a great film and lead to a fantastic conversation afterwards.

Most of the horror and slasher films that come out this time of year have no appeal to me. I do not need to see it to know that it is not something that will not be entertaining. That may not be the case for everyone, but I think that people need to learn to discern for themselves, in picking out a film and maybe even other things in life.

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider? 

1. What are your thoughts on the topic of discernment?

2. What films would you choose or avoid?

3. Why would you choose or avoid those films?

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.