Pastors-turned-filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick have been key players in the faith-based genre since their Kirk Cameron-led Fireproof became one of the highest-grossing indie movies of 2008. They’re clearly an essential force in the resurgence of Evangelical cinema, which is known for its paltry operating budgets and massive profit margins. Their fifth film, War Room, is yet another attempt at blunt-force proselytizing aimed at the deeply religious, but make no mistake: Despite its holy intentions, it’s a terrible movie on almost every level.
Tony and Elizabeth Jordan (played by T.C. Stallings and Priscilla Shirer, respectively) are an affluent, married African-American couple. They live in a nice McMansion with their young daughter Danielle (Alena Pitts), whose only passion seems to be jumping rope for her school double-Dutch team. While everything looks nice from the outside, their marriage has hit a rut. Then, during her job as a real-estate agent, Elizabeth encounters the wily old Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), a fervent Christian who is selling her house. She introduces Elizabeth to her “war room,” a closet-turned-sanctuary where she plasters Bible verses to the wall and prays regularly. Miss Clara takes it upon herself to reintroduce Elizabeth to God, asserting that her troubled marriage can be cured through devoted conversation with Jesus. Meanwhile, Tony has grown increasingly withdrawn from his family, thanks to his long business trips and thoughts of infidelity. Elizabeth soon believes that the power of prayer can repair their marriage, and even help the family endure after Tony runs into trouble at work.
None of the above-mentioned plot actually matters — the family’s strife is barely touched on, and the root of Elizabeth and Tony’s issues is never examined. War Room, in spite of its bloated, 120-minute runtime, is merely a vessel for Elizabeth and Miss Clara’s painfully long ruminations on sin, prayer, Satan, and forgiving. The film is so completely geared toward an Evangelical audience that the script, characterization, and cinematography are merely afterthoughts. In addition, War Room has so many inexplicable developments that you’ll wonder if Tommy Wiseau was an executive producer. For example: At one point, Elizabeth and Miss Clara are held up by a knife-wielding mugger (whom Clara disarms with the word of the Lord, of course), and the only time it’s mentioned again is when Elizabeth apologizes for bothering Tony with a phone call about the incident — a moment that underscores the film’s distressing gender notions. In the final act, the Kendrick brothers feebly attempt to show that Tony is once again a family man by having him compete alongside his daughter in a double-Dutch tournament for children and teenagers. In other words, he’s the only adult who’s jumping rope with these kids, and no one seems to notice. War Room also contains a howler of a speech by Elizabeth in which she screams at Satan to leave her home and free her family from oppression, as well as a character who actually says the line, “Devil, you just got your butt kicked!”
War Room probably wanted to deliver an innocuous message of understanding and forgiveness, but only devout believers will appreciate this sermon. It will serve as an affirmation of faith for its base, but for everyone else, this is a nauseating and troubling two hours of B-movie disaster. If faith-based films want to be taken seriously as cinema, they deserve to be held to the same standards as any other feature. Leaving aside its religious agenda, War Room is a colossal failure of a motion picture, rife with bad acting, paper-thin characters, and a distracting number of plot holes.