War Room

Once you’d finished laughing at We Are Your Friends’ pitiful box office return from this weekend, you might have noticed that in second place -- behind Straight Outta Compton’s third Sunday in a row at the summit of the chart -- was War Room.

Now, there’s a good chance that you don’t know too much about War Room, or about the talents of Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick, the writing, producing and directing team behind the film. But even though they’ve received little to no attention from the mainstream press, the Kendrick brothers’ four previous films each have steadily returned hugely impressive numbers, especially when you consider their paltry budgets.

Building upon 2011’s Courageous and 2009’s Fireproof, the new War Room grossed $11 million over the last three days after being made for just $3 million. But does this mean that The Kendrick Brothers are the latest sibling filmmaking team that you now need to look out for, like the Russos, or even the Nolans? Far from it. Because War Room is so unabashedly brazen with its Evangelical agenda, and shows such a blatant disregard for plot, character and cinema in general, only divine intervention will stop you from walking out.

War Room revolves around the family drama between the highly successful and beautiful Elizabeth (Priscilla C. Shirer) and Tony Jordan (T.C. Stallings), a married pair of 16 years who have a daughter of around 8 but have been failing to communicate. It doesn’t help that Tony is a bit of a dick. He's not helpful at home, unresponsive to both his wife and daughter, unwilling to help out his financially stricken sister-in-law, and he’s even considering cheating.

Elizabeth is well aware of her husband’s foibles, but a chance encounter with Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie), a busybody with a good heart and strong belief in the work of prayer and the Lord. She soon provides the struggling wife with a solution to her problems. This comes in the form of a War Room, where Elizabeth can sit in solace and pray while using Bible verses and other inspirational passages, which she glues to her wall, to inspire her. After converting her closet into this haven, Elizabeth immediately notices an emotional and spiritual difference, as she spends less time quarrelling over Tony’s numerous failures, and instead begins to support him. And that’s about it.

Now, if you haven’t dismissed the above as poppycock then War Room might just be for you. Undoubtedly, it has its heart in the right place. In fact, its message of “treat others as you want to be treated” and the lessons about the hollowness of materialism are so blatant, it’s almost embarrassing.

As a film, War Room isn’t just a monumental failure. It actually should be hung, drawn and quartered for crimes against cinema. Not only are its characters painfully dull, but there is literally no plot or drive, other than the fact that Tony and Elizabeth’s marriage has slightly stagnated. It’s littered with turgid, unrealistic dialogue, and the direction is preposterously lifeless, with the Kendrick Brothers often just resorting to haphazard montage sequences to pass the time. Plus, it drags on for two hours! Two life-sapping hours.

Here’s the thing, though. War Room isn’t really a movie. Instead, it’s just a glossy, elongated infomercial for prayer. And, if you’re inclined to accept its agenda, it works. Because the audience I saw it with hooted, praised and squealed with joy at the right times. They didn’t care that it was basically the love child of Kirk Cameron and The Room. It struck a chord. And this success not only means that more films of its ilk could become more and more prominent in mainstream Hollywood, it also proves that audiences would rather see an empty room with prayers stuck on the wall than Zac Efron DJing.

Gregory Wakeman