Faith leaders react to new ‘Unholy’ movie

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Capital News Service

LANSING — As hundreds of thousands of Christians across Michigan celebrated Easter weekend, a new horror made its debut: “Unholy.” 

“Unholy” is about a young hearing-impaired girl who is visited by the Virgin Mary, but in reality by a demonic entity, according to the movie information website IMDb. The movie was released on April 2 — Good Friday. 

The film has raised eyebrows among members of faith communities. 

The Rev. Gordon Reigle of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in East Lansing said he doesn’t plan to see the film. 

“Hollywood takes enough jabs at Catholicism, and I don’t want to make doing so profitable,” Reigle said.

The trailer shows a statue of Virgin Mary bleeding from her eyes, the main character of the movie performing a miracle by healing a parapalegic and a crucifix burning on the altar of a Roman Catholic church.

Gordon said the movie highlights Hollywood’s obsession with the Catholic aesthetic.

“When movies or TV series portray a Christian church, more times than not directors choose Catholic settings because Catholic churches are rich in imagery, symbolism and everything that makes for good cinematography,” Reigle said. 

According to Reigle, director Evan Spiliotopoulos’ inclusion of Catholic practices in this movie is highly disrespectful and “seems to go in a new and disturbing direction, associating the Catholic Church’s tradition of honoring Mary, the Mother of God, with the subject of the demonic.” 

But Spiliotopoulos said in a Reddit post: “I was raised a Greek Orthodox Christian and I can assure you the film is respectful to faith and in fact is a redemption story.” The post also said he had no choice in the movie’s release date.

Spiliotopoulos’ publicist, Joshua Jason Public Relations, didn’t respond to phone and email requests for comment.

Reigle said, “Without having seen the movie – as trailers can be deceptively edited – the subject matter appears to be an affront to Catholics,” as was the timing of its release.

“Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ and, therefore, the spiritual mother to all Christians. Does anyone enjoy seeing their mother mocked or offended? I don’t think so,” Reigle said.

While the Islamic faith does not consider the Virgin Mary to be divine, Michigan State University religious studies professor Mohammad Khalil said she is highly revered. 

“The Virgin Mary is mentioned more times in the Quran than in the entire Bible. While she is not considered divine, many Muslims will name their children after her,” said Khalil, the director of the university’s Muslim Studies Program. 

“When you criticize people that are honored in the religious tradition — people who are honored like prophets — when there is ridicule of those people, I think there is a general tendency to feel bothered by that,” Khalil said. 

While he hasn’t seen the film, the Rev. Michael Cassar of St. Thomas Aquinas parish said it highlights a common theme for the church’s caution about validating alleged Mary apparitions. 

“St. Paul does tell us that Satan can disguise himself as an angel of the light, and this is why we need to be careful when discerning what exactly is communicating with us,” Cassar said. “The church takes time to weigh the possibilities.”

Reigle said he sees the film’s intention to play off of this theme but doesn’t think the release date for the movie was appropriate. 

“Even if this is a patently fictitious story which is only meant to put a new twist on the classic struggle of good vs. evil, the timing of this release for Good Friday is upsetting,” Reigle said. 

“Horror films released in October ahead of Halloween are one thing, but releasing this ahead of the holiest Christian celebration of the year — Easter — is in poor taste,” he said.

While people may interpret “Unholy” differently, Cassar said the presence of Catholic traditions in film is cool. 

“I think it says something that, even today, when people need to tap into the concepts of good and evil and the preternatural world, they turn to Catholicism,” Cassar said. “ I take it as a compliment that we are associated with these basic parts of human experience.” 

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