Thank God for Scary Movies, by Reed Lackey

14 Jun


It was a day filled with stress and anxiety. Bills needed to be paid with less than enough money. Deadlines had passed without completed work. Conversations had ranged from tense and sensitive to outright heated arguments. I felt incompetent and ineffective in every endeavor I put my hand to, whether personal or professional. I couldn’t turn around without offending someone, being misunderstood, or letting somebody down.

I probably should have taken a walk. You know, fresh air and all that. I’m a Christian, so I probably should have prayed harder about things. Maybe read my bible or listened to a Hillsong CD. But I already felt so embarrassed and even a little ashamed that the thought of trying harder to do the thing I’m supposed to do felt like setting myself up for one more failure. So I did the thing I knew would demand almost nothing from me.

I watched a scary movie.

I forget what the choice was that day. Might have been The Conjuring. Maybe The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, that’s a classic. Maybe it was one of those cheesier ones like Friday the 13th Part 16: Jason for President (not a real movie… yet). Whatever it was that I picked, I could feel my mood shifting as I watched it. Something subconscious was listening to something subliminal and the entire unheard conversation was making me feel strangely better. By the time the movie was over, I not only felt more in control of my emotional distress, I had landed – almost by accident – on a few solutions to some of the practical problems I was trying to solve. I felt more confident, more reasonable, and more (believe it or not) relaxed after having witnessed multiple fictional horrors unfold.

I did pray afterwards. Not because I felt the need to repent (although I know some of you think I needed to; I can feel your shock and offense from all the way over here), but to seek a little understanding of what was happening here. I didn’t receive any specific downloads from Sinai containing such understanding, but after a little prayer (and a handful of scriptures), I began to remember some things about that earlier conversation between my mind and the art that I hadn’t specifically heard.

I was reminded again of such things when recently watching the wonderful horror film, The Conjuring 2, a film which is saturated not only with effective scares, but with a certain sense of spiritual and emotional gravity as well. It had me wondering again what it was that drew me to scarier stories time after time. Why does someone who is generally optimistic and hopeful find a strange sense of comfort in monster movies? If you’ll permit me some rudimentary surface-scratching, I’ll explain.

Things get out of hand pretty quickly in scary movies. Sometimes it’s the result of poor choices: someone opens a door they shouldn’t, or says something they wish they hadn’t said, or casually summons a soul-eating demon after one too many beers on Friday night. But sometimes the characters were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or came upon a severe moment of bad luck. Whatever the cause, The characters suddenly find themselves in a situation that is beyond them. And although the consequences are very different, I have to admit that that is a feeling I can absolutely understand. As bad as I want to pretend otherwise, there are some things in this world, including some challenges I face and some circumstances I find myself in, which I will never be able to control. This becomes especially true when we witness the very real horrors every day in the world around us on the evening news.

And the danger is never fully gone in scary movies. Sure, a couple of good guys can make it out alive, and maybe they can even contain the danger, but they’ll never be able to completely get rid of it. The struggle of light versus dark is cyclical, if not constant, and whether it is within our own natures or from some external force, it is much saner to remember that we will have troubles in this world. There will be times of senseless violence, horrific injustice, and inescapable tragedy. But we must also remember perhaps the most important thing that scary movies do for us.

There are only two ways to become emotionally capable of dealing with the scarier things in life. One is to actually experience them and navigate through the aftermath. Please, God forbid. The other is to rehearse — to practice, if you will — the distress and terror such circumstances would produce in you. By experiencing scary things in a safe space, we might become better acquainted with how to cope with them when their counterparts poke into our real lives. Perhaps it is a good thing to “pretend play” dealing with loss and danger and suffering without actually having to endure them, or to help cope with the times when we have actually endured them.

I know some of you aren’t convinced — you think I’m deranged and perhaps you’re correct. Some of you might think I’m onto something, but you simply don’t like being scared. Fair enough, I don’t blame you. But I for one am glad that there are stories which remind me when I feel out of control that some things in fact are out of my control. When I feel assaulted by unseen forces of chance or spiritual consequence, I’m thankful for stories that present worlds where that’s not crazy. And I’m glad that while it may be impossible given our abilities and our degree of power to vanquish evil once and for all, it is entirely possible for us to survive the struggles we currently find ourselves in. Not to mention that our faith teaches that while evil may win its fair share of battles, it will never win the war. Sometimes the monsters are beaten, sometimes the good guys win, and sometimes — even if they don’t win — they live to fight another day.

Thank God there are stories like that. Thank God for scary movies.

Sleep tight now.

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