Scott Derrickson has made a career on casting light on the darkest places of the spiritual world. He is the director of such films as “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Sinister,” and “Deliver Us From Evil”. And, most recently, his talent for depicting the immaterial has been put to use directing the upcoming supernatural Marvel film, “Doctor Strange”.
But there’s something you may not know about this master of horror. He’s a committed Christian. And what’s more, he integrates his faith into his work.
Although Derrickson came to Christ in high school, his faith truly blossomed at Biola University, a Christian institution of higher education, where Derrickson found himself “exposed to a world of ideas,” wrestling with weighty theological and philosophical issues such as the problem of evil, the conundrum of suffering, and the intricacies of the human condition. “I struggle with my own doubts,” says Derrickson,” “but Christianity still holds up under all the scrutiny”.
It was here that Derrickson came to peace with the reality of evil, with the state of the fallen world, and, despite all that, the sovereignty of God—a realization that allowed him to truly come to peace with Christianity, to choose it rather than merely inheriting it.
A committed Presbyterian who flirts with Catholicism, Derrickson describes himself as an orthodox Christian who adheres to the Apostles Creed, and is committed to raising his family according to these beliefs—a rarity in Hollywood, where fame and fortune can often hinder the restraint so vital to faith. To hear him speak in various interviews is to hear a man who sincerely loves God, who constantly grapples with issues of faith and theology, and who has given his life and work, passionately and intelligently, to God.
So how, exactly, does a devout Christian go about making horror movies? Isn’t Christianity all about light and beauty and the quest for moral perfection?
Well, no—not if you read your Bible, it’s not.
There is an entire world of spiritual darkness, of unnamable horrors that press at the fabric of reality. We catch glimpses of these horrors in scripture, such as in the case of Matthew 8:28-34, in which Christ drives a legion of demons from a beleaguered man and into a herd of swine, which promptly drowns itself in the sea.
If that doesn’t give you the chills, little else will. But God chose to include scenes like this in the Bible for a reason— Derrickson has taken the Lord’s cue, and is running with it.
The Bible isn’t always pretty. Sometimes—a lot of the time, really—horrible things happen, things God chooses to show us through His word. He does this so that we might know what evil is, so that we can know what we’re up against, and what the price of sin truly is. Depicting darkness, alongside the light, also shows us how powerful God truly is—even the worst horrors tremble at His name.
These are ideas worth thinking on for any Christian. As Derrickson says,
It's not about putting something evil in the world. It's about reckoning with evil. We don't need any more evil in the world. We need a lot more reckoning with it." And reckon he does.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, Derrickson calls horror the “genre of non-denial”. Horror takes the supernatural seriously, and within the genre’s confines, an artist can depict the realities of intelligent, spiritual evil, ultimately prompting discussion and thought about God.
Christianity is a long-running thread in Derrickson’s life. His is not a lazy faith, forgotten after Sunday morning and picked back up again after a week—he thinks through his faith, integrating it into his art—the creation of horror films. In an interview with Relevant, on the subject of creating horror through the lens of his Christianity, Derrickson says that, “I gravitated, I think, initially, toward the horror genre because, of all the genres, I think it is the genre that is most friendly to the subject matter of faith and belief in religion. The more frightening and sort of dark and oppressive a movie is, the more free you are to explore the supernatural and explore faith. The two just somehow go hand-in-hand really nicely.”
The wisdom in Derrickson’s words reveals a mind that has been absorbing theological texts for decades, always learning, and always willing to mix that wisdom into the films he produces. It is a rare thing that powerful and influential individuals choose to live their lives for God, and just as rare is that individual who wishes to help and encourage others in their own faith.
But that’s just what Scott Derrickson does—he lives out his faith through his art, encouraging discussion about God and the nature of evil, and always endeavoring to portray Christians as they truly are, rather than resorting to the religious stereotypes that we see so often in film.
He admits that his films aren’t for everyone, that only certain minds have the particular sort of strength it takes to gaze into the abyss, and to stand firm when it gazes back.
Fortunately, Derrickson has that particular strength, and can not only gaze into the abyss, but climb down into it, and can bring back what he learns there for the benefit of his audiences.
As the release of Doctor Strange approaches, consider giving the filmography of Scott Derrickson a try—if you have the fortitude, that is. His is a brand of horror that isn’t overtly Christian, that doesn’t sermonize or make attempts proselytization.
No—Derrickson is a consummate storyteller, well aware that the best way to convey theme is through showing rather than telling, through coming face to face with the things that move in shadow.
Beyond that shadow, though is always hope in the all-encompassing power of God, and for the discerning viewer, Derrickson’s Christianity weaves through his films in the form of truth—the recognition of good and evil, and the beauty and meaning inherent to facing our fears.
If more Christians integrated their faith into their lives and work quite so well, the world would be the better for it.
"If we're not compelled to gain a deeper understanding of good and evil, how can we make the world a better place?"