The religious aspects of The Night of the Hunter are apparent from the very premise—it is, after all, a film about a deranged, amoral so-called preacher. But what struck me most on this rewatch, especially with a slightly incredulous audience, was the purity of the movie, especially in its depiction of religion, faith, and innocence. Laughton and Agee made no attempts to conceal the hypocrisy of the community, but that in and of itself is a faithful gesture, and at least for me, it worked wonders.
From the very beginning, The Night of the Hunter blatantly positions itself as a fairy tale; Lillian Gish appears in space a la the beginning of Dune, and this is matched by the ending, where she talks directly to the camera. But like her nightly teachings, and quite unlike Mitchum’s fiery sermon, the film never feels preachy, treating its events with the utmost sincerity.