As far as lives go, Linda has a pretty terrible one.
She lived a childhood of sexual abuse from her step-father, she works at a nursing home with death all around her, all the men in her life turn out to be pigs, and she can’t stop having horrendous migraines. What’s even worse is that her lone friend, who she’s known from childhood, won’t listen long enough to stop suggesting meditation and spirit journeys, let alone give her some sympathy. For Linda, things truly seem hopeless.
For Steve, things aren’t yet terrible, but they’re about to be. He’s a Ph.D. student working on his thesis, which is about good versus evil. It sounds like a pretty basic idea, and his adviser is even worried that it’s not original enough; but Steve, determined to make it memorable, decides he needs to get some hands-on experience. So when he joins a cult rife with pantheism and sex rites, he may soon find that he’s bitten off more than he can chew.
From the first few minutes, it’s pretty clear that Refuge from the Storm isn’t your run-of-the-mill Christian film. Unlike many that paint a sanitized picture of the world free from darkness, this film approaches it head-on. Its main character is a victim of sexual abuse and has a lifestyle, we infer, with some aspects of promiscuity. The world that Steve becomes involved with, which also becomes Linda’s world as their stories intersect, directly tackles the darkest kind of dark that the world has to offer, albeit in a way which avoids nudity.
So in a way, it succeeds where many Christian films have failed, in giving us a real-world conflict. Even if we can’t personally identify with the terrible things that Linda is going through, we probably know of someone who has. Her struggle is very representative of the struggles that many people in the world face. But that’s not to say that it completely avoids the Christian film tropes that have often turned off viewers. The mandatory conversion moment of the film feels slightly forced, and Linda’s conversations with the minister in the rest of the film feel very forced, more a way to squeeze Bible quotations into the film than anything. Add to that the cheesy dialogue of a deep-voiced Satan at the beginning of the film, and the movie has its fair share of cringe-worthy moments.
The film is interesting, though, because it tackles something that very few Christian films ever will: spiritual warfare. The storyarch regarding Steve and his entrance into the cult is about more than his being involved in sin. It draws from Ephesians 6:12 – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” While that verse is never stated, it’s the one that forms the core theme of the film. The cultist pantheism of the film’s antagonists, especially the brilliantly played villainess Katrine, draws directly from Satanic spirits. Linda’s newfound faith, on the other hand, offers her protection.
The way this theme plays out is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I really appreciate the fact that the film is willing to acknowledge and expound upon the acknowledgement of the supernatural, something that many forms of Christian media try to dilute because it makes us appear paranoid and superstitious. But on the other hand, I have some concerns; two of them, in fact.
After Linda becomes a Christian, everything starts coming together for her. Her headaches go away, she finds peace from her sexual abuse, and in one instance, even receives supernatural protection. It’s certainly true that God does much for us on this Earth when we become Christians, but we need to be careful that we don’t frame these stories in such a way as to expect God to fix all of our worldly problems when we become Christians. Christians still have bad things happen to them, and contrary to what one of the film’s characters says, sometimes things like sickness and bad circumstances are not direct actions of Satan. It was God that sent Hezekiah’s sickness, as well as taking the things from his house after he died (2 Kings 20), and sometimes it is simply “time and chance.” (Eccl. 9:11). So while I appreciate the propagation of the healing power of God, it needs to be tempered with the recognition that God doesn’t always give us the healing we want.
The second thing is more direct to the story. Much of the story relies on the idea of Satanic spirits, and at one point in the movie, it even aims to teach us that Christians, because of their faith in Christ, can have power over these spirits. That, too, causes me concern. In Acts 19, some people tried to cast out a demon in the name of Jesus, but the demon did not recognize them, and they were forced to flee from the house bruised and naked. All Christians were not given miraculous powers, not even in the first century. With that in mind, it concerns me that someone, especially an unbeliever, might view this film and be attracted to Christianity primarily because of its healing power and the promise of spiritual power, neither of which may be true.
So in the end, then, the film is a mixed bag, like many films are. But I would be remiss to mention the film’s negative points without its positive ones, namely that it tackles real problems and exposes real evil instead of just offering up an unrealistic and sanitized view of the world. That’s not just noteworthy, it’s practically revolutionary. So while I have some disagreements with the film’s conclusions about certain aspects of spirituality, I am excited by the fact that a Christian film is taking on something this serious, as more should. For that reason alone, I think I can say that it was worth the ninety minutes of my time.
The film will be released on DVD on Feb. 10.