[25 June 2008]
The List is tale of supernatural combat in which the forces of greed, black magic and the lust for power are pitted against Christian faith, love and the power of prayer. At stake is the soul of Renny Jacobsen (Chuck Carrington), a young lawyer from a wealthy family. Renny has just lost his estranged father (his mother died when he was young) and is about to inherit a dangerous legacy.
His legacy is membership in the South Carolina Covenant List. The list was founded during the waning days of the American Civil War when a group of wealthy and desperate planters smuggled their treasure overseas. They also signed a book in blood that bound them and their descendents to the power of The List. Renny is descended both from one of the founders of The List and from Amos Candler (Frank Hoyt Taylor) a planter who denounced The List as blasphemous and refused to join.
Though without family, Renny isn’t alone. His landlady, Daisy Stokes (Mary Bet Peil), is retired after spending 45 years as a missionary in Africa, and is devoted to her young tenant. Renny is also by far the youngest Southerner to have a Mammy, Momma A. (Elizabeth Omilami). Momma A. raised Renny after his mother died and loves him like a son. Renny also meets the lovely Jo Johnston (Hilarie Burton) who is also descended from a List founder and has just lost her father, as well. These three women, joined by the ghostly presence of Amos Candler, aid Renny in his struggle against moral corruption.
Attempting to corrupt Remey are the members of The List. The treasure has grown enormously over the last 140 years and the members are just as ruthless, greedy and deceptive as their Confederate ancestors. The magical power that binds the members to The List has grown as well, to the point where it is lethal to cross those who control it.
Martin Luther once famously complained that the devil had better music. In The List, the devil certainly has better actors. Desmond Larochette (Malcom McDowell) is the charmingly evil leader. He likes Renny and hopes to corrupt him in his own image. It’s an interesting fact that the British play Southerners far better than Yankee actors. McDowell carries on this tradition very well.
Other List members include Gus Eicholtz (Pat Hingle) and the courtly Thomas Lane (Tim Ware) who merrily lead poor Renny around by the nose. Everyone in The List is due to receive a disbursement of 30 million dollars, so the financial stakes are high. They also live in elegant antebellum mansions and have shrimp grits for breakfast. Tempting, indeed.
So what we wind up with is a muddled bit of Southern Gothic lite that somehow manages to be a pretty enjoyable movie. The List has a strong Christian theme that is well presented. There are several great horror movies in which vampires are thwarted by crucifixes and werewolves are killed by silver. The use of prayer to thwart evil is just as logical. It’s done well here and is so believable that the viewer could picture a far different outcome for Salem’s Lot if only that town had a couple of church ladies handling things. There’s a Bible study section in the extras, as well as interviews in which the actors discuss their Christian faith.
There’s also a very nice message about heritage and the legacies that we inherit from our families. We are unable to ignore our heritage and some legacies are ours whether we want them or not. But we are not helpless since the good and evil that we all inherit can either lead to our redemption or our destruction. So while we can’t avoid our legacy, what we make of it is our decision. That’s a good thing to know.
Another nice aspect of The List is its authenticity. It’s set in Charleston, South Carolina and on various antebellum graveyards and mansions so the scenery is beautiful. Since most of the actors are Southerners, the mannerisms and expressions are real. Mercifully, the accents are real, as well. The sentimentality for the old South is laid on a bit thickly, but not enough to grate on the viewer’s nerves. I actually felt rather homesick after watching the film.
These are tough times for religious Christians who want clean yet intelligently crafted entertainment. For these viewers The List will be a welcome rarity. Those who are less devout will find this movie to be pleasant if unexceptional viewing while hard core horror ghouls will want to look elsewhere.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/the-list/