"A Cut at Christianity"
What You Need To Know:
The sun never shines in Tim Burton's SLEEPY HOLLOW, literally and spiritually. Johnny Depp plays New York City criminal investigator Ichabod Crane in 1799. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders, all involving decapitation. There, he meets the town leaders, who are convinced that the murders are being committed by a headless horseman. The scientifically minded Crane does not believe this until he sees the headless horseman murder a man. He discovers that the murderer is being controlled by witchcraft and that the motivation is a chance to access a large inheritance. Aided by a young witch, Crane learns how to reverse a spell so that the horror can be stopped.
SLEEPY HOLLOW is a nicely crafted movie, but its premise is that witchcraft can explain and help vanquish things that science and Christian faith cannot. Science and Christian faith are given a chance to demonstrate their powers, but they are ultimately shown to be deficient in battling the evil threatening the town. Violent decapitations abound. Also disturbing is a scene of the town's pastor caught in adultery. Thus, because it trades truth for a lie, SLEEPY HOLLOW is ultimately deplorable
(OOO, C, AB, L, VVV, S, N, A, D, MM) Mainly occult worldview where witchcraft creates the menace, heroine is a witch, & book of spells saves man's life with a reference to Bible as the cure against evil, several utterances of "Thanks to God," a Christian funeral & a depiction of the killer not able to enter a Christian Church, yet Pastor commits adultery, implied murder by Christian man & Christian faith eventually found ineffective in battling menace; 3 exclamations of "God"; extensive violence including many decapitations with blood letting, other dismemberment's, man cut in half, stabbing, shooting, horse shot, woman cuts her own hand with knife, chase scenes & coach crashes against tree; briefly depicted scene of pastor committing adultery with married woman & some heavy kissing; no nudity but several cleavage images; alcohol use; smoking; and, many images of corpses, lots of witchcraft paraphernalia & greed.
The sun never shines in SLEEPY HOLLOW, literally and spiritually. Adapting the Washington Irving classic, creep master Tim Burton, who created BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, and A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, applies his dark and very odd vision to this evergreen tale of terror and mirth in a small town.
Burton’s favorite son, Johnny Depp, plays New York City criminal investigator Ichabod Crane in 1799. Shunned by the reigning judicial system for unorthodox means and methods, he is sent upstate to a small town called Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders, all involving decapitation.
On his arrival, he is greeted with a kiss by a fetching young lady, Katrina Van Tassel (Christina Ricci), the daughter of one of the town’s most prosperous men, Mr. Baltus Van Tassel (Michael Gambson). Crane meets the town leaders including the pastor, Mr. Steenwyck (Jeffrey Jones). They all are convinced that the murders are being committed by a supernatural oddity, a headless horseman. Crane is not convinced, and is certain that the killer is merely flesh and blood, an actual living, fully intact person. Yet, with his own eyes, Crane witnesses the headless horseman murder a man by a swift cut at the neck, removing the head.
Later, Crane discovers that the lifeless but animated headless horseman is being controlled by witchcraft and that the motivation is greed, a chance to have access through inheritance to a large sum of money. If the heirs are all killed off (plus lawyers and all others in the way), then a certain person stands to get very rich. Crane, with the help of Katrina and Young Masbeth (Marc Pickering), the son of a murder victim, venture into the dark west woods, visit a witch, encounter the horseman, visit the Tree of Death (containing some bloody body parts), and finally battle the horseman and his master atop a burning windmill. Yet, only through a series of spell reversals can the horror be stopped.
There is no question as to Burton’s artistic vision and his ability to set a great atmospheric mood throughout the movie. Set designs, costuming and cinematography are as effective at setting a mood as Coppola’s DRACULA was. Depp plays Crane with charming BACK TO THE FUTURE zaniness, similar to Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown character in that movie. Ricci has her own limited charms, but her faith in witchcraft ultimately diminishes her endearing qualities. Most of the remaining cast has such limited screen time that interesting characterizations are few. The story pace is only serviceable, and lots of random exposition about the backstory, witchcraft and lines of inheritance slows the movie down a bit. Excitement comes mostly during the chase scenes, even though the head chopping scenes aren’t very suspenseful or scary.
The theme of the story remains quite clear: the supernatural, specifically witchcraft, can explain and help vanquish some things that science and Christian faith cannot. Science and Christian faith are given a chance to demonstrate their powers, but are ultimately shown deficient in battling this menace. It is only with a charm of protection and an understanding of the spell that has created the horseman, that Crane can act to reverse the spell and hence stop it. While this witchcraft business is in itself disturbing, the most grievous display was showing the pastor in an act of adultery with a witch. He pays for this sin, but it disqualifies the previous acts of faith. Furthermore, in a backstory it is revealed that Crane’s Bible-toting father killed his mother, who may have been a witch. Finally, a church is shown to be effective to hold the horseman at bay, but the faith of its dwellers isn’t sufficient to stop them from becoming hysterical, which results in death inside the church.
There has been much excitement over this movie, and it seems that many people are interested in seeing the new Tim Burton film. With such widely popular movies like BATMAN to his name, he has been able to bring a palatable darkness to a wide audience by couching it within mere fable. Now it seems, however, that his darkness is being replaced by a specific anti-Christian theology, witchcraft. Of all his movies, this one seems to have the clearest agenda toward evil, and, hence, is the least enduring. An audience member cheered when a bible was given to Crane and told that it is effective in stopping evil. Similar audience members, who esteem the Bible and Christ, will find that this movie recognizes their faith, but doesn’t believe in it. Because it trades truth for a lie, it is ultimately deplorable.