As the thriller Condition of Return plays in American theaters and online, one of the biggest questions is how religious conservatives will receive a film about the Devil and a heinous mass shooting. There is reason for optimism. While the Christian film industry in particular has been hit or miss in terms of quality, movies that include I Can Only Imagine have grossed tens of millions of dollars. Clearly, there is a market for films that resonate with people who believe in God and the supernatural. With this in mind, the reception of Condition of Return by conservatives will likely depend on, at least in part, how well-told the story is and, crucially, whether they feel their beliefs are being respected.
First, the movie itself is receiving rave reviews. John Spare’s script, which focuses on Eve, a churchgoing woman who commits a mass shooting inside a church, is brought to life by a stellar cast, including AnnaLynne McCord (68 Kill, 90210), Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, God’s Not Dead), Natasha Henstridge (Species, Diggstown), and James Russo (Django Unchained, Not a Stranger). Notably, McCord was awarded Outstanding Lead Actress at the 2023 Sedona International Film Festival for her performance as Eve. Additionally, director Tommy Stovall and producer Marc Sterling led the production in Arizona and are said to have been respectful of the film’s potentially controversial content.
That brings audiences to another question: what is it about Condition of Return that could alienate – or attract – millions of conservatives? The answer comes down to the big “why.” Why did Eve seemingly snap, pick up an AK-47, and kill innocents? While the movie does allow viewers to draw their own conclusions, the Devil is an undeniable factor.
What’s In Condition of Return?
In Condition of Return, Eve sells her soul to the Devil, played by Henstridge. The implication is that a crime, particularly one as horrific as a mass shooting, is influenced by spiritual forces. Whether anyone believes in demonic influence, of course, is heavily dependent on their own experiences and even varies among conservatives and their particular denominations.
What may tip the scales and draw conservative filmgoers is the film’s respectful treatment of those who believe in the supernatural. As the Devil, Henstridge does a commendable job with a role that often is no more than a cartoon character on screen. In interviews, she stated, “I think the Devil has to be somewhat, a little bit charming to get you on board, right? They have to have something to offer. If they’re just all fire and brimstone, if it’s all that, then you’re afraid. But, if you’re charming and you have something to offer, then that’s how they get you.”
She also gave credit to Condition of Return’s production crew, who used lighting, makeup, and hairstyling to give her the subtle impression of strength and even horns. “I feel like they made me very strong,” she says. “Even the lighting – you couldn’t really see my eyes. There was depth. So, I thought that was clever of them. I chose the hair because I thought it looked like horns.” The result is a masterful performance of a dangerous character whose allure is irresistible and who weaves a seductive web to ensnare Eve.
Whether the conservative community universally supports the message of “the Devil made me do it,” there is one idea in Condition of Return they will likely agree on: the unmistakable danger of blind faith in the wrong thing.
As mass shootings increase around the United States, McCord has had open conversations about the need for everyone to ask themselves what their religions really are. One of the problems, she believes, is that too many people are blindly putting their faith in things that don’t look like religion, including money. They are giving up their sovereignty without stopping to question who, or what, they are giving it to. McCord believes that the message, woven throughout Condition of Return, is at the center of many people’s beliefs, including those of conservatives who are of an open mind.
McCord says, “It’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest that conservatives are not open-minded enough to watch Condition of Return or any film for that matter. I despise such across-the-board generalizations. This is just more of the propagandized rhetoric purported by those who seek clickbait headlines and sensationalism and the absence of true journalism. We must do better than this, or we are as guilty as my character Eve, at contributing to violent themes in our world. Violence begins first as a thought.”
Ultimately, Condition of Return will challenge conservatives with its questions about free will, the Devil, and the impact of toxic theology on a person’s choices. With mass shootings increasing with depressing frequency around the country, perhaps that is what every American, regardless of their beliefs, needs: a movie that raises the hard questions and asks them to grapple with them until answers are found.
Condition of Return, a supernatural thriller, was directed by Tommy Stovall, produced by Marc Sterling, and written by John Spare. The film stars AnnaLynne McCord as a churchgoing schoolteacher who makes a deal with the devil in order to escape a life out of control. The all-star cast includes Dean Cain, Natasha Henstridge, and James Russo.
Condition of Return opened for weeklong runs nationwide on September 22, 2023, including in Los Angeles at the Lumiere Music Hall and in Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Dallas, and Oklahoma City. Movie lovers are able to rent or own the film on Vudu and cable services. Condition of Return also began showing on iTunes, Prime Video, and other TVOD digital platforms on October 23, 2023.
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Watch the official trailer for Condition of Return
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