Hell House | Chicago Reader

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Every Halloween since 1990 the Christian ministry of the Trinity Assembly of God in suburban Dallas has taken the form of a haunted house attraction: “Hell House” features dramatic scenes of suicide, abortion, school shootings, and drunk-driving deaths, and after the sinners are shown writhing in hell, visitors are invited to a prayer meeting next door. With a subject like this, filmmaker George Ratliff can't miss, and to his credit he presents a fairly evenhanded look at an evangelical youth group as it spends three months preparing its big show. For every moment of empty-headed puritanism (a religion teacher warns his students that he won't answer “dumb questions”), there's an instance of genuine Christian sentiment (a young woman recalls how she performed a suicide scene for an audience that included her rapist and found afterward that she'd forgiven him). Ratliff drops the moral and spiritual questions surrounding damnation to track the relatively mundane process of assembling an amateur theatrical, and he seems to reach the limits of his tolerance when the topic turns to speaking in tongues. But ultimately he's smart enough to realize that, in exploring a community obsessed with judgment, suspending his own is critical. 85 min.

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