War Room: 'ham-fisted' film about power of prayer tops US box office

Critics hate it, but Christians find tale of spiritual salvation 'every bit as compelling' as the Avengers


A low-budget Christian film about the power of prayer, War Room, has surprised critics and industry experts by topping the US box office and bumping the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton from its number one spot.

The film, which tell the story of a troubled family whose fortunes change when they meet a lady with a prayer room, was panned by critics, reports the Daily Mail. It features a virtually unknown and mostly African-American cast but managed to draw big enough audiences to end the rap movie's three-week reign at the top.

War Room is written and directed by a former pastor, Alex, and his brother, Stephen Kendrick, who have been dubbed "the Spielbergs of Christian cinema". The story centres on a woman whose marriage is in trouble until she discovers the power of prayer.

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Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter called the faith-based drama "ham fisted", and said that while it will attract the faithful, "its heavy-handed proselytizing and soap opera-ish storytelling will prove a turn-off to those who don't pray on a daily basis".

The Los Angeles Times says "preachy doesn't begin to describe War Room", a "wincingly overwrought" Bible study class of a film.

And in The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman questions the whole premise of the movie, which argues that "domestic abuse can be cured by retiring to a bunker and praying". It is "an odd plan of attack", says Hoffman, with "furniture chomping" performances, but "one can always keep praying that the next of these films will be a little better.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"84301","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

Despite the panning, an article in Variety credits War Room's ticket sales to its largely African-American cast. Polling shows that black Americans are more religious than the US population as a whole, with nearly 90 per cent describing themselves as belonging to a religious group.

For War Room, this took the form of a racially diverse opening weekend crowd – 36 per cent African-American and 42 per cent Caucasian – "an essential ingredient in its success".

Variety reviewer Joe Leydon, who was kinder to the film, says there's a real audience for this sort of movie, which he calls "by far the most slickly produced and insistently evangelical movie yet" from the Kendrick brothers.

Leydon notes that the "emphatic proselytising" has struck a chord with those ticket buyers "who feel a drama focused on the possibility of spiritual salvation can be every bit as compelling as a spectacle that pivots on the question of whether Loki can pull one over on the Avengers".

But it remains to be seen, he says, if there's crossover potential for a wide release "so bereft of alluring plot hooks for mainstream audiences".

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