Normally, I try to jot down the thoughts that have rattled around the attic of my mind for weeks, or even months, on this blog. I like to turn ideas over in my head until I feel like I have some perspective or grasp on them. Occasionally, I find myself so fascinated by a piece of horror film that I cannot help but shoot from the hip, damn the consequences.
I viewed another anthology horror flick from this year, last night, entitled Holidays. The directors associated with the film are a mixture of known, up and coming and relatively unknown. The biggest name is, of course, Kevin Smith who directs the "Halloween" vignette. It's a typical Smith feature, combining dark humor and sexually-charged grotesquerie which surrounds three cam girls and their pimp. This is probably the vignette that fails the most to deliver something creative, artistic or substantive to the film. Some of the up and coming directors consist of Dennis Widmyer & Kevin Kolsch who brought us Starry Eyes and Sarah Adina Smith who directed The Midnight Swim. There is a wide range of styles represented within this collection of short films surrounding a favorite perennial subject of horror, since slashers reinvigorated the genre: holidays.
The vignettes are not consistently brilliant but there is a level of detail, art and concept that makes up for any pacing problems. However, there is one that stuck out among the rest. One that I felt pushed more boundaries than the rest: Nicholas McCarthy's "Easter."
Now, I have to call a spade a spade before I dig into this short film. It is one of the more profane and potentially blasphemous examples of cinematic horror that I have probably ever seen. It is not for those who are sensitive about how the iconography of the faith is portrayed. The fact that I was not angered or offended by it and was nearly ecstatic to write on it probably says more about me than maybe my family, friends and church would like. But here I am, I can't control what I am compelled to write about.
"Easter" starts with a mother tucking her daughter into bed on the eve of Easter Sunday and the conversation that takes place is something parents have probably encountered before with particularly precocious kids: the contradictions between religious and secular meanings and narratives of a specific holiday. In this case, the little girl is confused by why the Easter bunny bringing candy overnight to her and the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead coincide on the same day. Shouldn't a huge bunny rabbit popping into the house during the night, leaving candy, OR a God man rising from the dead "like a scary version of E.T." take precedence instead of both of them being mixed with rather ambiguous acceptance by Christians and non-Christians alike? For the girl's part, these are great questions. Questions I often ask whenever the holidays come and go. Nonetheless, the mother avoids her daughter's direct challenge by diverting and misdirecting. Who hasn't been there?
When the girl wakes up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, however, she comes face to face with the incarnation of the uncomfortable progeny of these two strange bedfellows. The creature is part man, part rabbit, though with the exception of long, dark, sweat-plastered hairs on its shoulders and chest, it is probably more man in flesh. However, its head is in the shape of a bunny, fleshy and hairless, with ears, pink nose and beady black eyes. Sitting atop its head, pressing down its flesh ears to the side of its face is a crown of thorns. Its hands and side are pierced in the traditional locations of Christ's body according to church tradition. Out of the pierced hands come baby chicks, cute and yellow, which brings in a third meaning to the distorted conglomeration of being: the arrival of Spring. Needless to say this crucified rabbit man is an uneasy and troubling union, but, honestly, it is just as uneasy and troubling as the combination of these pluralistic meanings in the American psyche.
The crucified rabbit man corners the little girl, pushing her finger inside the open wound on his side to, we assume, push away any doubts that this is a dream. He then tells her that since she saw him she would have to take his place, a strange reversal of Christ dying on the cross, taking all of our sins on Him. In a perverted sacramental moment, the crucified rabbit man places a small egg (like the candy Easter eggs) in the girl's mouth and she partakes of "his being." She then transforms into a human flesh bunny, obscured by the camera's focus on her shadow. The new crucified rabbit woman has become. The mother wakes up to find her daughter gone forever. The vignette ends.
A crucified rabbit man. Profane for sure. Blasphemous, probably. Blasphemy, though, is specifically a characteristic of created beings. God does not blaspheme otherwise He would cease to be God: God cannot not believe in God or rebel against Himself. So when we, Christians, encounter profane or blasphemous expressions, we should first look at what they say about us and the blasphemy that we all are accessories to. In this case, McCarthy is making a truly profound statement about the precarious mixture of these sincere doctrines and expressions of faith and, in the case of the Easter bunny, these creations of a consumeristic culture. Add on top of that the Pagan celebrations and rituals of Spring. And yet Christians and non-Christians, alike, allow for all of these narratives to coexist with little to no thought about it.
Yet, especially for Christians, maybe some thought should be given to how we incorporate, accommodate and communicate these elements that are, in pretty significant ways, at odds with the Christian faith. Am I saying that Christians can't have fun hiding eggs with their kids? No. Go for it. It's fun to watch and entertaining for the kids. I think really what "Easter" is questioning is something deeper and more insidious than just going through the actions of typical Easter activities. It is basically giving flesh to the challenge that the daughter was posing to her mother in the opening bedtime conversation: which of these competing narratives is really the aim of our worship? Which one do we actually believe?
The complex and muddled hearts of humanity create the icons of our imperfect belief, our dedication to various gods: the strange bedfellows of faith and the world. If we are honest with ourselves, the curious crucified rabbit man is an honest projection of the unstable devotions of the heart. Our hearts are petri dishes of blasphemies. This is the reason why we, Christians, hold to a faith that says God became man to save us from ourselves, from our blasphemy. The crucified rabbit man cannot save us, for it is us. It crucifies us. God crucified His Son/Himself. In a weird way, this rather uncomfortable vignette really just reminds us of the paths before us. It forces us to answer the daughter's challenge instead of shrugging it off as if none of it really matters.
If that's the case, just make sure you don't get up for that glass of water on the night before Easter...
Holidays (2016): "Easter"
dir. by Nicholas McCarthy
Starring Ava Acres, Mark Steger, Petra Wright
Runtime: 105 min.