Sound controls

How camera, script and sound interpret the Christian void in Honk for Jesus. Save your soul.

Honk for Jesus. Save your a film about how religion can leave you physically and metaphysically empty – an empty wedding, an empty church, an awkward conversation full of unsaid things. It follows megachurch pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and first lady Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall) in hopes of resurrecting their place of worship on Easter Sunday in the wake of a scandal. which tarnishes the pastor’s name. Despite the style of the mockumentary, the principles avoid making the scandal explicit to their documentarians, but the camera and the script end up making it explicit to us. The pastor cheated on his wife with young (adult) men while preaching that homosexuality is an abomination. Despite uneven execution, the technical aspects of Honk for Jesus. Save your soul. are shaped to bring us and the characters to grapple with the hollow center of this form of Southern Baptist evangelism: the moral and emotional vacancy is duplicated by empty congregation halls, a lack of sheet music, or lots of diegetic music , and characters who look or pass in front of the camera (or the other) without saying anything.

In repeated cuts of fictitious archival footage, Lee-Curtis’ discussion of his Bugatti, clothes and accessories is reminiscent of a Ric Flair promo. It appears early on that Trinitie stays with him because she enjoys the status and wealth of her position. The prominent throne, the fanciful church crowns. She smiles enthusiastically as a large audience applauds Lee-Curtis’ prosperity gospel, his condemnation of envy and sexual deviance.

In the aftermath of his scandal, however, Lee-Curtis’ congregation of tens of thousands is reduced to five who, to him, don’t even matter. His church is a quiet place, echoing slightly as parishioners fail to fill the space. Most memorable, and Lee-Curtis’ favorite, is Aria Devaughn (Selah Kimbro Jones), a young girl who enthusiastically channels the Holy Spirit and speaks in tongues. His mother Sapphire (Crystal Alicia Garrett) brings him to church to occupy him rather than out of deep internal devotion. As the film transitions from her performance to a one-on-one with the documentary camera, Aria says, “I love theater.” Lee-Curtis’ self-inflated sense of righteous connection to God is backed up by a little girl playing a game at his expense.

A rival mega-church sprung up from the downfall of Lee-Curtis Childs, led by his former followers, the Sumpters (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance). It’s a place brimming with life, though an uncomfortable conversation between the Childs and the Sumpters hinges on both the aggressive fake positivity that churches across America have become known for and the awkward silence that becomes the movie signing.

Honk for Jesus. Save your soul. is carried almost entirely by Hall’s performance as Trinity, much of which is in the delivery of a script that requires awkward pauses in conversation where you expect to hear crickets chirping or see a mouse running, where you could almost literally cut through the tension like fog in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. The documentary’s diegetic explanation is that Trinitia thought it would help gain support and good press as they attempt to reopen the church. She frequently offers fake broad smiles, veiled explanations and calls for editorial scrutiny of the documentary, asking for things to be cut or scenes to be reshot.

Trinitie is often uptight and lonely, without company except for the broken relationship with her husband. She is never able to let down her walls and trust anyone; when she encounters a former devotee, they speak in a coded language, in a pleasant yet mean, enthusiastically passive and aggressive manner, which would be obvious to any observer – underlined by the woman walking away in mid-sentence . Lee-Curtis, on the other hand, is a fool, a liar and a man who took advantage of his position to seduce young men who came to him for advice. Trinitie’s mother implores him that she has a religious duty to stay with him while Trinitie considers that she might be happier without him. It’s all in the silences. The straight-to-camera looks we’ve all become familiar with in over a decade of dummy comedy television appear without any smarm; just grimaces laden with annoyance. The scenes with Trinitia’s mother are among those that step out of the doc look in favor of a more standard narrative perspective. Trinitie’s mother encourages him in his marriage by telling a story about the need to pray for patience with Trinitie’s late father. Trinitie asks when her mother had to stop asking for such a pardon. His mother says it continued until the man died; she says this without any resentment, just a slightly humorous air of being the way men are, but the words of encouragement are cold comfort. Silence returns, as the camera asks us to sit down with her and her predicament before Lee-Curtis noisily returns.

The true soul of Lee-Curtis’ character exists partly in his brilliance, his air of divine sufficiency, and partly in involvement. He is a hollow person who is obsessed with flashy looks and uses his great wealth and status to take advantage of the young men he now pays to keep quiet. He attempts to seduce one of the documentary’s cameramen with his alleged connections to the entertainment industry. When, at the film’s climax, he comes face to face with one of the men he has taken advantage of, he is briefly confident and dismissive before becoming surprised and sad – if not remorseful for his actions, full of regret for what it has become, or what people can see. His future sermon for their grand reopening is vague about what he’s been up to, something Trinitie calls him out on, and it’s the most real he knows how to be – swerving all the way through his quasi-apologies and, like throughout the movie, claiming it’s the devil and other people plotting his downfall.

Honk for Jesus. Save your soul.The biggest failure might have been in advertising. This isn’t the first movie or TV show to talk about hypocrisy within the church, comedic or otherwise. Of Checked in! at Projector at Virtuous gemstones, the place of churches and the moral failings of its institutions have a decent record of entertainment in the United States. But trailers for this particular satire have sold it as an outrageous comedy while its actual presentation, despite some absurd moments like Hall and Brown rapping about “Knuck if You Buck” in their car, is less hilarious and more pensive. Undoubtedly, there are jokes that fall flat, but unintentional silences mingle with intentional silences. Honk for Jesus. Save your soul. is not a game; it’s a film about loneliness, fear and the law. It leaves plenty of air for the audience to fill in with interpretation, to think about the implications of the life he’s led, and ends with his characters in the same bad position, but closer to having to come to terms with the situation. The congregation is not about to be rebuilt, but the children have been confronted with their empty relationships and their empty lives.

Kevin Fox, Jr. is a freelance writer with a master’s degree in history, who loves video games, film, television, and sports, and dreams of liberation. It can be found on Twitter @kevinfoxjr.