Movie Review: ‘Short Term 12’

I am a pastor in the PCA. I am also a fan of independent films. Never did I think these two worlds would cross, but they did this summer, and the topic they had in common was child abuse.

Let me explain.

The PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) had its annual General Assembly meeting in Houston last month. Here’s how this works: local presbyteries in the denomination will develop proposals, or “overtures,” which are then sent to the General Assembly for review and approval when PCA elders throughout the world gather to meet each summer. This year, more than half of the overtures submitted to GA dealt with the issue of child abuse.

An overture approved by the GA this year affirmed that church leaders should be informed about how to prevent child abuse in our churches; that the “heinous crime of child sexual abuse” should be reported to civil authorities; and that all church leaders should use their influence to protect children and support “victims who often suffer in silence and shame without the vocal and compassionate support of the church.”
Boz Tchividjian, associate professor of law at Liberty University School of Law, called this “perhaps the most robust statement on child protection adopted by any Christian denomination.” Kudos to the PCA. When ecclesiastical meetings of this kind can so often get tangled up in politics and minutia, how refreshing it is to see a church take a strong stand in defense of the most vulnerable in our society.

So what does this all have to do with indie films? Well, a film released last year highlights exactly why the church should come to the aid of abused children. “Short Term 12,” directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, examines the culture and activities of a treatment facility that provides care for children who have come from abusive homes.

The two main counselors are Mason, played by John Gallagher, Jr., and the appropriately named Grace, played by Brie Larson. We come to find that Grace in particular is wrestling with the emotional scars of her own abusive upbringing, but through the entire film, we see the profound effect that grace and mercy can have as Grace and Mason pour out their energies on behalf of teens for whom love has been a stranger.

This is one of the strongest movies I’ve seen in a long time. The performances are genuine and persuasive; the story is crafted with great skill. It’s an indie film, so it’s not like your typical Hollywood production. It’s low-budget, gritty, sparse, and somewhat solemn. It’s not in a hurry. There are no special effects. The soundtrack is understated and unobtrusive. Overall, it’s the film’s compassion that is most prominently displayed.
Sensitive viewers should take note that this is not a “Christian film.” The language is salty and there are some scenes with sexual content (but no nudity). But everything has its proper place and contributes substantially to the story being told. The film even makes a statement in favor of the sanctity of life.

Watch “Short Term 12,” and you’ll come away appreciating all the more the stance taken by the PCA in its 2014 General Assembly.