Sights to Show You, by Bob Connally

2 Nov

Full disclosure: The director of this film is Tyler Smith, who of course runs this site. These are my honest thoughts about his movie.

For a long time I was not a fan of the horror genre. There were exceptions. Movies like Scream, 28 Days Later, and (still) my all-time favorite, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to name a few of the few. My issue was based on the feeling that far too many horror movies weren’t interested in their characters and while that can certainly be said of some, I was not fair to the genre as a whole. But my problem with horror was not due to spiritual concerns. However, there are many fellow Christians who, “have condemned horror outright, for it’s population of vampires and werewolves, witches, ghosts, zombies, serial killers. Mad scientists with their monsters?! Oh, surely nothing so ugly could have any artistic or cultural value. Satanic cults and dark wizards. Oh, surely nothing so ungodly could have any place in a faithful imagination.”

That is the mindset which Tyler Smith challenges in his new documentary, Valley of the Shadow: The Spiritual Value of Horror. For Christians who already enjoy horror movies, this film nicely articulates why we do in ways we may not have even realized. For those who have long refused to even dip their toes into the genre, they may give it a chance after watching this. Or at the very least, they’ll gain an understanding of what horror has to offer other Christians even if they still would rather not watch scary movies themselves.

Over the course of the film, Smith guides us through the many different subgenres within horror, from alien invasions to vampires to zombies to slashers and beyond. He deploys clips from a plethora of films gliding from Alien to Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors remake with ease. He displays a deep historical knowledge of the genre as well, detailing George Romero’s invention of zombies as we know them and how much of a cultural force they have become. Smith also points to Romero among other filmmakers as examples of horror storytellers who use these fantastical tales to comment on society more effectively than standard dramas are often able to. He looks at depictions of cult leaders and how there are those who will twist God’s word for their own nefarious purposes. Perhaps more than anything though, Smith examines how watching horror movies can help us face and even conquer our biggest fears.

Not surprisingly, Smith takes an especially close look at The Exorcist, which is a movie that hits a little harder for a Catholic like me. He examines William Friedkin’s masterpiece and highlights just what makes it so effective. The gradual way that the characters reach the point of deciding to attempt an exorcism after exhausting more conventional means of trying to treat what’s afflicting young Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) is what makes the ending so powerful and engrossing. 

As was the case with his previous documentary, Reel Redemption, it is not only apparent how much knowledge Smith has about cinematic history, but how much genuine love he has for movies. A moment in the film that highlights the criminally underappreciated Antonia Bird movie, Ravenous, feels as though it is a quiet celebration of a movie he really wants more people to see, and as someone who loves Ravenous as well, I hope this brings new viewers to it.

It is this love and enthusiasm that keeps Valley of the Shadow from ever feeling dry, which a film such as this easily could have. Host and frequent horror actor Bill Oberst, Jr. helps in this regard as well. Another Christian with an affinity for horror, Oberst does a wonderful job of delivering the narration written by Smith and Reed Lackey.

Ultimately, what Smith wants us to show us in Valley of the Shadow is that there is goodness to be found at the heart of many of the best horror films. Heroic acts by characters such as The Exorcist’s Father Karras demonstrate the light in the dark. Whether you believe it or not, these movies “have such sights to show you.” If you’re willing to give them a chance, you may find they have a lot to offer you on your journey of faith.

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