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Family Movie Review: War Room (PG)

WarRoom ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 120 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. The film is rated PG, but its themes – including a subplot about marital infidelity and a strong emphasis on Christian faith and its role in a successful marriage – don’t really make it kid-friendly. This is more for tweens and teens and their parents, not children.

‘War Room’ doesn’t have a subtle name, and it’s not a subtle movie. The film, which calls on Christians to arm themselves through prayer, is exclusionary and limiting in the same ways so many movies in this genre are.

By Roxana Hadadi

“Victories don’t come by accident,” says the matriarchal Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) in “War Room,” and for the devout Christian, that means attending church, submitting to one’s husband, taking on the devil, and praying pretty much all the time. “Lord, call us to battle,” she intones, and if you’re not of this faith, that will make you feel pretty uncomfortable.

Although maybe that’s the point of “War Room”? It’s pointed enough that its exclusionary religious politics seem quite intentional – if you don’t believe that God is real, and that the devil is also very real, and that the latter will try to corrupt you to hurt the former, then “War Room” is not for you. In fact, the film almost advocates that your opinions, or life, don’t matter if you’re not of the Christian faith. “I see you in a warrior that needs to be reawakened,” says Miss Clara to Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer), the real estate agent she persuades to join her in prayer, and it’s heavily implied that their fighting won’t be against other Christians. It will be against everyone else.

The film begins with Elizabeth, struggling to bring some affection back into her marriage to Tony (T.C. Stallings), a pharmaceutical sales rep who is never around. He barely knows their daughter, and is instead more interested in continuing to rise through the company on his way to the top. “In order for this family to function, we have to communicate,” says Elizabeth, but what she doesn’t know is that Tony is considering an affair on the side – and that his fantastic job success may not be that genuine.

Frustrated with her life, Elizabeth unexpectedly connects with Miss Clara, an elderly woman who tasks Elizabeth with selling the home where she lived for 50 years, raising her son alone after her husband died. In that home, which is heavily decorated with Christian iconography, Bible relics, and a huge American flag, Elizabeth discovers Miss Clara’s “war room,” a closet in which she developed a “prayer strategy” and studied Scripture so she could learn to “how to fight the right way, with the right weapons.”

At first, Elizabeth isn’t sold on the idea, but she’s desperate enough that she decides to go for it – and the effects are tangible. An attack on Elizabeth and Miss Clara is thwarted when the latter commands, “You put that knife down right now, in the name of Jesus!” Elizabeth’s daughter is inspired to start her own list of prayer items. And Tony, who had been going on dates with and texting another woman, starts questioning his own behavior, too.

There is nothing wrong with a story of a family growing back together and coming to love one another again, but “War Room” ascribes so many of its story elements to Jesus and Christianity that the characters are given no personalities. Everything they do is because of their relationship with God, so no other element of themselves needs to be demonstrated – which makes them all profoundly similar and ultimately uninteresting. It doesn’t help, either, that Miss Clara’s understanding of Christianity also dances around misogyny (“Men don’t like it when their women always trying to fix them,” she says to Elizabeth, even though she knows Tony is a cheating jerk) and the judgment of others (“You say you attend church occasionally; is that because your pastor only preaches occasionally?” she snarks to Elizabeth when meeting with her about selling her home). This is ostensibly a movie about the healing power of Christian belief, but so much of it on display here is exclusionary and aggressive.

For those with a strong faith, maybe lines like “Devil, you just got your butt kicked!” will be inspirational instead of ridiculous, and maybe it won’t matter to them that Elizabeth, theoretically our film’s hero, is undermined by practically everyone else into becoming a religious automaton with no free will of her own. And when the film ends with Miss Clara telling God “We need an army of believers,” maybe that will be rousing to them instead of unnerving. But “War Room” never gives wiggle room for people who aren’t completely and totally in line with its own beliefs, and while it succeeds as gospel for that group, it fails as a movie for everyone else.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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