The Devil Conspiracy (2023)

We cover many flavors of schlock on this blog, but we tend to ignore one of the most popular, profitable sources of schlock around: “faith-based” Christian propaganda.  Outside a one-off podcast episode where we dipped our collective toe into the frigid waters of Evangelical schlock (covering God’s Not Dead & The Shack) and Boomer’s long-dormant Late Great Planet Mirth series covering the Evangelical Rapture films of decades past, we haven’t dealt much with the cheap-o Christian propaganda that pads out new release schedules at every suburban multiplex, despite it indulging the same market-based opportunism as genres we do love, like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror.  That’s mostly because modern “faith-based” media preaches only to the choir, echoing predetermined conclusions that its target audience already righteously agrees with: God is real, abortion is evil, and anyone who disagrees is an agent of Satan.  It’s hard to have fun with even the silliest of B-movies when their messaging is that sourly cruel & misanthropic.  If anything, the micro-industry of “faith-based” propaganda has made it explicitly clear that it doesn’t want heathens like us in the audience.  It doesn’t want us alive & free to walk about in public at all, a sentiment it’s more than willing to voice through fascist mouthpieces like Kevin Sorbo & Kirk Cameron into the nearest, loudest megaphone.  That’s why it’s so weird that I found myself watching, reviewing, and—against all odds—enjoying the faith-based propaganda piece The Devil Conspiracy.  Like God’s Not Dead before it, it’s a despicable film that asserts in every line-reading & plot beat that God is real, abortion is evil, and anyone who disagrees is an agent of Satan.  Unlike God’s Not Dead, however, it’s also a fun, silly little romp and a good time at the movies.

The Devil Conspiracy represents a new evolution in “faith-based” Christian propaganda, borrowing the visual language of action-fantasy superhero epics to sweeten the bitter, hateful messaging at the genre’s core.  It brings me no pleasure to admit that the gamble mostly works, which is evident in how little enthusiasm actual Catholics & Evangelicals appear to have for it.  My (admittedly light) internet research attempting to gauge the film’s cultural impact revealed very little since it snuck into wide distribution this January, except a few articles detailing small Catholic protests decrying the movie as “blasphemous.”  This is surprising on both sides of the Christian-heathen coin.  You’d think that religious groups would embrace the film as cultural outreach, Trojan Horsing the same anti-Satan, anti-abortion rhetoric that’s usually reserved for bland message pieces “starring” Kelsey Grammer into a thrilling action film comparable to (the Thor: The Dark World era of) The MCU.  You’d also think that schlock-hungry horror obsessives catching a glimpse of the word “Devil” in the title would’ve been drawn to its bonkers logline premise, of which I can do no better job marketing than to just copy & past in plain text: “The hottest biotech company in the world has discovered they can clone history’s most influential people from the dead.  Now, they are auctioning clones of Michelangelo, Galileo, Vivaldi, and others for tens of millions of dollars to the world’s ultra-rich.  But when they steal the Shroud of Turin and clone the DNA of Jesus, all hell breaks loose.”  The Devil Conspiracy may have achieved the widest gap between wild premise and mild purpose in the history of genre filmmaking.  It is the ultimate reactionary superhero film, approximating what it might be like if Zack Snyder remade End of Days for Pure Flix Entertainment.  The result apparently baffles everyone and pleases almost no one, except the few freaks who find the novelty of R-rated Christian superhero propaganda inherently fascinating (i.e., me).

It might surprise you to learn that the plot to clone Jesus from his mythical DNA remnants on the Shroud of Turin isn’t a ploy to jumpstart his Second Coming.  Because the world is so overrun with abortion-happy Satanists, Jesus’s DNA is instead perverted to create a suitable host body for the in-the-flesh coming of Satan, who has been awaiting his opportunity to reign on Earth since he initially rebelled.  Satan’s poor mother-to-be is an unsuspecting, unmarried academic who values science over religion, to her own peril.  After losing a few God’s Not Dead-style theological “debates” with enlightened clergymen, she’s kidnapped by Satanists and, in the film’s most hellish sequence, forcibly impregnated in a laboratory with the Jesus/Satan hybrid child, which essentially transforms her into a demonic hellbeast with a baby bump.  It’s up to the archangel Michael and his magical sword to save her soul and save humanity before the Satan-Christ can be born in the flesh, which mostly amounts to him fighting off a few robed cultists in industrial hallways.  It’s not easy staging a blockbuster superhero epic on the leftover sets & budget of Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, but The Devil Conspiracy does a decent job of wringing its batshit premise for all its worth.  There’s something about its scrappy brand of demon-slaying, Satanist-decapitating action-horror that helps its despicable messaging that “Science has given The Devil his way out of Hell” go down a lot smoother than it would’ve coming out of Kevin Sorbo’s equally horrific mouth, despite my better judgement.  As soon as the superheroic prologue where Lucifer falls from “Heaven” (outer space) to Hell (the Earth’s core) and growls to Michael that it’s “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” there’s no appropriate response to its incendiary, Biblically metal imagery other than “This is badass.”

I should be clear here: I’m glad The Devil Conspiracy failed.  Ideologically, I am opposed to everything it has to say about humanity & spiritualism.  Formally, I think it hits the exact same numbing dips in novelty & momentum that most secular, crowd-pleasing superhero epics suffer.  Still, there was a lot of perverse fun in watching one of these hateful propaganda pieces aim its weapons just outside its usual target demographic, seeking not just to preach but also to entertain.  In a different, worse world where it became a breakout success, I’d hate seeing its army of imitators emerge from the bowels of Heaven to smite my heathen ass.  As an anomalous, R-rated Christian propaganda film loved by no one, it’s got its scrappy, schlocky charms.  May I never be tempted by one of these evil, hateful sermons again, no matter how spectacularly silly.

-Brandon Ledet

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