Movie Review: Beyond the Hills

Movie Review: Beyond the Hills

Beyond The Hills, one of the most popular European releases for the year also happens to be one of the strongest attacks against Christianity and the hardest to defend. The story centres on two young women who grew up in the same orphanage in Romania. One has left their small town to pursue waitressing work in […]

By Mark HadleyWednesday 7 Aug 2013MoviesReading Time: 3 minutes

Beyond The Hills, one of the most popular European releases for the year also happens to be one of the strongest attacks against Christianity and the hardest to defend.

Christianity hard to defend in 'Beyond the Hills'. 

The story centres on two young women who grew up in the same orphanage in Romania. One has left their small town to pursue waitressing work in Germany; the other has found her peace in the Orthodox Church. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) has lived a lonely life as a ward of the state, but her relationship with God has helped her find her place in the world:

“People come and go. Only with God are you never alone.”

But the foundation for her peace comes into question with the return of her best friend, Alina (Cristina Flutur). Once Alina was the stronger member of the relationship, the protector. Now she is confounded by the strength of Voichita’s belief. She toys with the idea of repentance and a return to the church but she cannot understand this settled faith and interprets everything in terms of her own terrible experiences. The Father must have some hold over Voichita because otherwise there can be no reason to live this back-breaking existence. Alina becomes determined to persuade Voichita to abandon her life as a nun and begin a new one together. 

However life ‘beyond the hills’ takes a turn for the worse when Alina’s objections lead to blasphemies and violence. Voichita’s sister-nuns fear the foul-mouthed newcomer and become convinced the devil has gained a foothold in her life. With the aid of their priest they attempt to force Alina to submit to an exorcism and a deadly struggle ensues. 

Beyond The Hills is a lovingly constructed straw man that could only exist in the bleak landscape of determined unbelief. It wasn’t enough to make Alina a misunderstood orphan; she also had to be suffering a mental illness centering on abandonment issues, and hopefully Voichita would agree to restore the lesbian love they once enjoyed. The members of the convent are supersitious and unrefined by comparison. They’re not lacking in compassion – they think they’re doing the best they can for Alina – but it’s the sympathy of ignorant people committed to a primitive belief. When their efforts go terribly wrong it’s no surprise that right thinking members of society are called in to level the most severe censure.

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However it’s not so easy to shrug off the film’s insinuation that Christians see the devil at work in every illness and disadvantage. As a journalist I’m aware of cases where real exorcisms have gone tragically wrong. Even when you put those extremes aside, though, it’s still too easy to find believers who will assert the presence of a demon in everything from cancer to low self-esteem. But neither is there is an answer to be found in embracing Beyond The Hills’ suggestion that spiritual explanations are imaginary.

When the disciple Peter writes about the devil he speaks of a real foe who is both dangerous and searching for an opportunity:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  

Peter should know. He discovered that the devil could be present in the most well-meaning conversation, like trying to talk Jesus out of a path that led to certain death. So it doesn’t help to side with the cynics on this topic and deride these fictional characters. The method the film’s Christians chose to oppose the devil was both ill-informed and ignorant in its execution, but the sentiment was sound. Our first thought regarding Satan is to be a sober one: he is real and he desires to destroy everything made in God’s image. But our second one should be equally sure: he was defeated at the cross and he has no power over the soul that Jesus claims. 

Rating: M
Distributor: Madman
Release Date: August 8