Reviewed by: Kirsten Palmer
courage / bravery
ghosts in the Bible
curses in the Bible
Kodi Smit-McPhee … Norman Babcock (voice)
Tucker Albrizzi … Neil (voice)
Anna Kendrick … Courtney (voice)
Casey Affleck … Mitch (voice)
Christopher Mintz-Plasse … Alvin (voice)
Leslie Mann … Sandra Babcock (voice)
John Goodman … Mr. Prenderghast (voice)
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Sam Fell—“The Tale of Despereaux,” “Flushed Away”
Laika Entertainment—“Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls” (2014)
Travis Knight … producer
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“You don’t become a hero by being normal.”
Welcome to Blithe Hollow, a small town that is proud of its history, especially an incident akin to the Salem Witch Trials. Hundreds of years ago, a council of seven elders held trial to persecute and execute a witch. Upon her death, she cursed the village and promised she would return some day and raise the dead, getting her revenge by ultimately condemning the souls of her persecutors/victims to eternal damnation. In present day Blithe Hollow, the city is all decked out in various witchy themed shops, signs and statues. Now meet Norman, a young boy with a unique talent: the ability to see and speak with the spirits of the dead. Misunderstood by everyone—his father, his sister, his schoolmates—Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is determined to avoid everyone. Teased and taunted by all, he is called a weirdo and a freak. The only ones who seem to accept Norman as he is are his mother (Leslie Mann) and his friend Neil (Tucker Albrizzi).
Recently, Norman’s gift starts to turn into a curse when he starts seeing things. These new visions are all pointing him to the witch’s curse which is threatening to come true. A dirty, seemingly homeless and “crazy” man that Norman has always been told to avoid seeks Norman out to warn him about the witch’s curse and to prepare Norman to stop it. This “crazy” man turns out to be Norman’s uncle, Mr. Prenderghast (John Goodman), who also has the gift to speak with the dead. After he dies, Mr. Prenderghast’s spirit makes contact with Norman and tells him what he needs to do to stop the witch’s curse, but he only has until sundown tonight.
After a school performance gone awry, thanks to Norman’s visions, he has been grounded. Left at home with his teenage sister to watch him, Norman sneaks out to stop the witch from returning and raising the dead from the grave. En route to performing the task, Norman bumps into the school bully, Alvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who then follows Norman to the graveyard. Meanwhile, his sister Courtney (Anna Kendrick) discovers that Norman has left and sets out to find him. She goes to his friend’s house, and meets Neil’s older brother Mitch (Casey Affleck). Trying to win Mitch’s affection, Courtney asks for his help in finding Norman. After Neil confesses what Norman is up to, they head out to find him.
Unbeknownst to them, Alvin has prevented Norman from stopping the curse, and they’re a little busy running away from the zombies. Norman, Courtney, Mitch and Neil all get in Mitch’s van to get away from the zombies and to try to figure out what went wrong and how to stop the zombies from attacking and eating everyone. However, the zombies reach the town and chaos ensues, as the townspeople start fighting the zombies. The chase leads to the historic Town Hall which may hold the answer Norman is looking for, but only if the townspeople are willing to admit his talent is the real thing and not a figment of his imagination.
The film includes some inappropriate language. I counted one “OMG,” two “d**nations,” one “jack***,” one “p*ssed,” an exclamation of “Sweet Baby Jesus,” and references to hell. While it wasn’t said, there is a reference to the “f-word.” There was name calling, some aimed at Norman (freak, weirdo, loser), some aimed at Neil (fat, fatty). We even see some of these spray painted on their lockers. When someone asks Norman what he’s watching on television, he responds “sex and violence.” During a rehearsal for the school play, the teacher calls all the students a “useless bunch of-” and then it cuts to the next scene.
During one scene, we see a billboard advertising the “Lucky Witch Casino,” with a picture of a woman in a suggestive pose with cash sticking out of her cleavage. While searching at the town hall, Alvin mentions an adult video store across the street. We see Mitch in only a towel when he answers the door, , and he catches Neil “freeze-framing” an aerobics DVD on the instructor’s rear end. Also, we learn Courtney’s attempts to flirt with Mitch are all for nothing as he tells us his boyfriend is into chick flicks—an audible gasp went through the theater, after this remark.
The mood and scenery throughout the film is all dark and creepy looking. There is a lot of imagery of witches, zombies, brains, zombies eating brains, skulls and references to Ouija boards. There’s a good bit of what I would refer to as “gross-out” scenes involving the zombies dead, decaying bodies, they show Mr. Prenderghast die, and also when Norman goes to visit Mr. Prenderghast’s body. We also see Alvin squash a bug with his hand, and it shows the bug guts left behind on the locker door. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve seen the image of Neil kissing something… and while we don’t see it, the audience understands he’s kissing a ghost dog’s behind.
Buried under the deluge of a worldly view of the afterlife, there is actually a nice story being told. A child with an extraordinary gift has given up the struggle to fit in. He has already made up his mind that he has to deal with his problems and tasks alone, but, despite this, his friend Neil is determined to be a good friend. Even at the point where Courtney, Mitch and Alvin want to give up on Norman and leave him to his weirdness, Neil stands up and says he won’t leave Norman, and tells his brother Mitch, “You can’t make me.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12—“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
However, Mitch picks Neil up and carries him away and leaves Norman alone to his seemingly impossible task. Of course, Norman feels alone, he listens to his parents argue about him and his obsession with dead people and ghosts. His mother says he’s just sensitive, but his father is very hard on Norman. Norman hears all the negativity his father feels towards him. This is not how a father should treat his son, even if he isn’t what he thought his son should be.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21).
Any time Norman tries to explain what he has been through, no one listens to him or they chalk it up to his imagination or believe him to be insane. At some point, Norman has to deal with the witch and the cause for her curse—revenge. People were mean to her, and so her chosen course of action is to be meaner back. The Bible makes it clear that we are not to get revenge on our enemies, the vengeance belongs to God (Leviticus 19:18; Romans 12:17-21; 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:15). We are called by God to love our enemies (Luke 6:27).
The movie is definitely dark in nature, and I would definitely not bring the little ones to this movie. While opportunities abound for discussions of what the Bible tells us about the afterlife, witches, dying and resurrections, Hell and those who speak with the dead (or claim to), I would recommend choosing another flick for the big kids, as well.
One other thing worth mentioning is God has given each of His children a gift, He grants us each talents. It won’t be like Norman’s gift of seeing and speaking with the dead, but our gifts are to be used for His glory and furthering His kingdom (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11; 1 Corinthians 12). If you do decide to try this one out, and if you have the choice of seeing it in 2D or 3D, I say save your money and see it in regular 2D. I watched it in 3D and was not at all impressed.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.