Does Christian Entertainment Have to Be as Terrible as Death of a Tree?


Some Christians feel that critics mock their faith-based entertainment fare (films, TV shows, books) out of reflexive hostility to the faith itself. That might be true, with some reviewers, but the reality is that a lot of that particular brand of cultural product is artistically and psychologically simplistic to the point of ludicrousness.

Death of a Tree, written and directed by John Martoccia, is filled with so much unintentional humor that it quickly slips into the realm of parody — and stays there. James (Ronnie Marmo) is a devout, 51-year-old Catholic widower, celibate ten years following the death of his wife. When Erica (Gracie Tyrrell), the 20-year-old daughter of friends, starts cleaning house for him, her seductive manner leads him to the dreaded sin of fornication and, eventually, spiritual anguish and tragedy. (Of course it’s the woman who triggers his downfall.)

Full of swipes at liberals, abortion (oh, does abortion come in for a flailing), and premarital sex, the film is relentlessly on message. Every conversation is a heavy-handed meditation on guilt and redemption, with language lifted directly from religious tracts and not even slightly molded into the way actual human beings talk to one another.

The film’s one unexpected and positive gesture comes when James, speaking to a friend on the street, gives a nod of approval to the religious faith and cultural practice of a young Muslim woman he’d recently passed on the street. He loved that she was completely covered except for her eyes.