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The Burning Girls

The Burning Girls season 1

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Lauren Cook

TV Series Review

When the Rev. Jack Brooks arrives in Chapel Croft to serve as its vicar, she’s cautiously optimistic. After all, her new life seems like something out of a novel: She and her teenage daughter, Flo, have moved into a cottage at the center of the sleepy village, nestled in the rolling fields of Sussex, England. It’s a chance for a new start, far from the mysterious and haunting events they left behind at home.

Finding out that the vicar she’s replacing hanged himself in the church, however, puts a slight damper on things.

That’s far from the last of Jack’s revelations about Chapel Croft. She learns that in 1556, two young girls were burned at the stake for belonging to a Protestant family. And a mere 30 years before Jack’s arrival, two more young women vanished without a trace. Village locals claim that the church is haunted by those two girls from the 1500s, which Jack doesn’t necessarily believe — until their spirits appear on her front lawn.

Faced with an unsolved mystery, hostile members of the community and ghosts from both Chapel Croft and her own past, Jack soon learns that this new chapter of her life may not be as idyllic as she hoped.

PLEASE EXORCISE CAUTION

Horror has been taking advantage of religious themes since the very beginning of the genre. From The Exorcist (and its recent sequel) to The Conjuring, Christian imagery has long since been low-hanging fruit for filmmakers looking to cause a scare. Demon possession, repetitive prayer recitation, stoic white-collared priests…taken out of context, it’s far too easy to twist elements of doctrine into something they’re not.

The Burning Girls continues this trend by ticking off every box on the list. Unsettling vicars? Check. Haunted church? Check. Demons and exorcisms? Check and check. As with most religion-focused horror, it cherry-picks aspects of Christianity and completely misinterprets them, resulting in a twisted and distorted version of faith.

“You should change your ways,” a young reverend warns a teenage girl, “or God will change them for you.” Faced with this perverted portrayal of religion, it’s no surprise that the girl runs away to burn her Bible in an open field.

Of course, there’s also all the content issues to be expected of the horror genre. In a disturbing flashback, we see two girls being burned at the stake as a priest crosses himself and onlookers cheer. Jack has dreams containing flashbacks of her past, including bloodstained altars and gruesome, unexplained wounds. Foul language is present, though infrequent, and all the classic tropes of horror — jump scares, unsettling imagery, an atmosphere that’s just downright creepy — are ubiquitous.

With the help of movies and TV shows such as The Burning Girls, religion in horror likely isn’t going away anytime soon. The series does nothing to reinvent its genre, choosing to reduce complex aspects of faith into cheap caricatures rather than say anything insightful. Sure, you might jump at the sudden appearance of a ghostly child covered in blood, but at the end of the day, what is there really to gain…and how much damage is being done to how the gospel is perceived in our society? It’s a big question, but rest assured, you don’t need to keep up with The Burning Girls to answer it.

Episode Reviews

Oct. 19, 2023 – S1, Ep1: “One”

The Rev. Jack Brooks and her teenage daughter, Flo, arrive in the village of Chapel Croft and discover that the town is haunted by tragedy and unexplained events, both recent and centuries old.

Violence and disturbing content run throughout this pilot episode. In an opening flashback to 1556, a mob hunts down two young girls and drags them out to be burned at the stake. Their deaths may not be shown in full detail, but we see and hear enough to make the scene extremely upsetting.

In modern day, a young reverend hangs himself in the church, which we see play out in its entirety. A dead animal is run over by a car, and bloody animal carcasses are seen briefly on an altar as part of a ritual. A little girl covered in blood shows up on Jack’s front lawn (we later learn it’s pigs’ blood from a slaughterhouse). Jack has recurring dreams of a bloodstained church altar and a reverend with a head wound.

An exorcism kit containing various tools, including knives and scalpels, is delivered to Jack and Flo’s doorstep. During a flashback, a teenage girl named Merry is slapped by her mother and dragged into the basement while the latter chants the Lord’s Prayer. Jack sees a vision of the burning girls from 1556, indicating that evil will befall her; the girls catch fire and scream as their skin turns gray and ashy.

We see plenty of religious imagery, though not always in a positive light. Merry uses a lighter to burn the edges of her Bible, and Flo’s friend Lucas draws upside-down crosses in his sketchbook. The same design appears scratched onto Jack’s car. During the 16th century flashback, the mob carries burning crosses as they hunt down the girls.

Flo, an aspiring photographer, hangs pictures taken at an LGBT pride parade in her bedroom. She later walks in on Lucas urinating in a shed, though nothing illicit is shown.

Jack smokes two cigarettes throughout the episode and drinks a glass of wine at dinner. Merry lights up a cigarette as well.

The f-word is heard twice, while the s-word is used seven times. “P–s” is used four times, “b–ch” twice, and “d–n”, “h–l” and “a–” each appear once. God’s name is taken in vain three times (one of these comes from Flo, and Jack chides her daughter for blaspheming). Jack uses the middle finger once.

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Lauren Cook Bio Pic
Lauren Cook

Lauren Cook is serving as a 2021 summer intern for the Parenting and Youth department at Focus on the Family. She is studying film and screenwriting at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. You can get her talking for hours about anything from Star Wars to her family to how Inception was the best movie of the 2010s. But more than anything, she’s passionate about showing how every form of art in some way reflects the Gospel. Coffee is a close second.

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