As Oscar season is in full swing now with three movies battling it out for Best Picture, Big Short, The Revenant and Spotlight, I decided to write about my favorite of the three (though my favorite of this year will always be Mad Max). A film that moved me in a very surprising way.
Spotlight is an intriguing procedural in the vain of Zodiac and All the President’s Men where the reporters aren’t perfect and the movie concentrates on these group of people doing their jobs and investigating a topic that is worth reporting. Spotlight is a great movie of intelligent people performing great work. A particular aspect of Spotlight that really surprised me was how suspenseful and terrifying it was. The film isn’t a horror film with jump scares and dark corners filled with monsters, after all, it is a journalism procedural. Instead it explores the real life horror of the Catholic Church harboring abusive, pedophile priests. That concept I find terrifying and there are several moments that made me grip my seat as I dealt with this real world concept and awful truth.
As a young boy raised Catholic in Massachusetts, I grew up an hour outside Boston and attended a church with a very friendly priest who was in no way one of the priests that Spotlight exposes. I was safe and never really knew the danger that was so present for other young Catholics in Boston. I was only 12 when the story was published by the Boston Globe and I was so caught up with the Patriots in the playoffs that I never fully felt the impact of this story. I remember seeing Cardinal Law on the news and hearing my parents talk about it and remember going to certain masses where certain priests asked us “to pray for the priests who are being accused” as if these dangerous men deserved our prayers and safety just because they were servants of God. I remember learning what a pedophile really was during these months and having my faith put in doubt for many reasons, and not just because of this scandal.
But I didn’t remember the full impact and the hugeness of this travesty. I remember learning about how pedophile priests were all over the world and that there were many in Boston, but I was ignorant to the damage and the full scale of this horror. I, unfortunately, was ignorant of the full scope until I saw Spotlight.
The scenes of this tireless group of Boston Globe reporters learning about the number of abusive priests in Boston alone and the scenes where they interviewed the victims scared me. I was deeply moved by this story and, even though I knew the outcome, I was not aware of the specific details that led to the published article. I muttered “Jesus Christ” and “Holy Shit” several times to myself during the course of the film as I discovered information with the characters. I was so enthralled in their discoveries, that in the scene where Rachel McAdams character, Sacha Pfeiffer, encounters a priest who freely admitting touching young boys but refused to call it rape because he himself was raped as a child, I was shocked. When her voice stuttered and she tried to contain her composure, my heart was racing. I was so engrossed I wasn’t believing what I was hearing. I was totally in the moment with these characters, and I was surprisingly scared.
Spotlight isn’t a horror movie, but it instilled a sense of fear and terror in me that many horror movies do not. The reality of it shocked me, even though I was aware of the story and the impacts it had in Boston and the Catholic Church. But as a young Catholic in Massachusetts, I was not, thankfully, exposed to this reality. But as I was watching this film I could not but help what if it were me? What if someone I knew was affected? What if it was a friend? That idea scares me. Pedophilia is a hideous offense and sin, and the fact that my former religion allowed it in its own way, is disgusting.
And so, as I was watching this fantastic film I felt what so many adults probably felt when they read the Boston Globe’s 2002 article: shock, horror, fear, and disgust. Spotlight has a subdued horror in it due to its subject matter. It is not a standard horror film, I never jumped, no one was murdered in a gory fashion, no psychotic killer or ghost was terrorizing horny teenagers, but the film still dealt with a scary topic at its center. I felt many things watching this film and not just a sense of fear. I was filled with joy at the end, sad at other moments, and was filled with suspense. And I was curious to learn more, wanting to learn more, to understand, to solve this with the characters on screen. Only great films can create such emotions.
Everyone should go see Spotlight, not just for the amazing performances, the tight writing and editing, the marvelous subdued direction, but also for its topic, for the truth.