...the world needs a good feature-length documentary about hell, but I’m afraid that Kevin Miller’s Hellbound? probably isn’t it. There are a lot of reasons, including first-time director Miller’s reliance on a single music cue – an ominous piano figure playing over a faintly keening drone – to tell us whenever he thinks somebody is right. And then there’s the copious screen time he gives to the Westboro Baptist Church, deputized to embody everything Miller’s film considers harmful and sinister and wrong.
Not that this is a challenge for the Westboro Baptist Church crowd – those people who’ve decided that their form of missionary outreach involves picketing the funerals of soldiers and celebrities holding a variety of signs varying only notionally from their trademark message: “God Hates Fags.” This is the group – one hesitates to call it a church, though the U.S government still affords it tax-exempt status – that even the Ku Klux Klan calls “hatemongers.”
Westboro have taken up residence in a prominent spot in the liberal imagination, showing up in movies and TV shows whenever the spectre of Christian intolerance needs to cast a long shadow; this tiny group, comprising little more than pastor Fred Phelps and his extended family, has become one of the bogeymen resident in red state, Republican America. (Ironic, considering that Phelps has run for office in Kansas several times as a Democrat, and that Phelps and Westboro were supporters of Al Gore’s 1988 presidential primary bid. Facts that, strangely enough, never seem to intrude on most media depictions of Westboro, and appear nowhere in Miller’s film.)
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