Condition of Return
by Daniel Baldwin
There aren’t too many movies out there that focus on mass shooters. You’ve got the occasional one that tackles it, such as Runaway Jury or the more recent Run Hide Fight, but they are few and far between. It’s not hard to see why, given both the frequency and severity of mass shootings in the United States. One might even call it a taboo cinematic subject. Taboos are, of course, the domain of genre and exploitation cinema. These are the corners of cinema where – when done right – we can find catharsis through art.
Tommy Stovall’s Condition of Return aims right at that taboo and pulls the proverbial trigger. Our protagonist is a churchgoing woman (AnnaLynne McCord) who, one day, shoots up said church, leaving over a dozen dead and even more injured. Why did she do it? That’s for the psychiatrist (Dean Cain) brought in to evaluate her ahead of sentencing to decide. Well, that and to professionally analyze whether or not she is sane enough to even stand trial. After all, she claims that the Devil (Natasha Henstridge) made her do it!
Normally what we would have here would be a battle of wits between a perpetrator and a medical professional as the latter sets about unravelling the mystery in front of them. Is she crazy? What’s the reason behind the reason for such a horrible act? Condition of Return is not interested in any of this. In fact, it makes it clear early on whether or not she is crazy. The answer is deeply troublesome. What we have here is a film that doesn’t put a whole lot of thought into the subtext behind the filmmakers’ storytelling decisions. And that’s not even getting into its problematic depictions of race.
There’s nothing wrong with making a film where the supernatural is real and inhuman beings are playing games with human lives for fun. Horror is filled with such fare. Angel Heart and The Devil’s Advocate come to mind. Religious horror is an important foundation of the genre. It only becomes a problem when evil acts by humans – especially topical epidemic ones – within such narratives are scapegoated upon such powers. Want my professional cinematic analysis? Stick with the Heaven & Hell thrillers that don’t blame mass shootings on anything other than the people pulling the trigger. As for McCord and Stovall, if you’re wanting horror fare featuring the talents either, seek out Excision and Aaron’s Blood instead. Mark this one as “return to sender.”