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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Apostasy movie review: witness to the oppression of religion

Apostasy green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A scathing critique of inhumanity in the name of religion — in this case, Jehovah’s Witnesses — made all the more chilling by its drab colorlessness and mute suffocation.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): desperate for movies about women; no fan of religion

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

What happens when religious faith bumps up against family love and loyalty? Nothing pretty, in British filmmaker Dan Kokotajlo’s quietly chilling feature debut. A former Jehovah Witness, Kokotajlo knows the world he is exploring in Apostasy, all apocalyptic visions of salvation for only a chosen few, and stubborn adherence to dogma in an attempt to ensure one is among God’s favorites. And he depicts this with an underlit colorlessness and a mute suffocation that is as oppressive as the lives of his obliviously brainwashed characters.

Eighteen-year-old Alex (Molly Wright) doesn’t seem to realize how bland and drab her life is, with seemingly little to occupy her beyond learning Urdu(!) so that she can proselytize to the “underserved” Muslim community in her hometown of Manchester. But she does appear to find real joy in her relationship with her slightly older sister, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson)… at least until Luisa does something to warrant “disfellowship,” or kicking out of the Jehovah Witnesses. Now Alex and their mom, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran: Boy A), are left on their own — they must shun Luisa — to dig further into their social and familial isolation even when, surely, their hearts are telling them that kindness and understanding are more what Luisa needs from them.

Marvelously understated performances from the cast combine with Kokotajlo’s unwillingness to let dictatorial belief systems off the hook, even as he finds sympathy for those caught in this one’s hooks, to make for a scathing critique of inhumanity in the name of some imaginary and blatantly invented greater cause. How positive a fantasy is religion if it cuts you off from life and love on Earth?

first viewed during the 61st BFI London Film Festival

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other releases.

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green light 4.5 stars

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Apostasy (2018) | directed by Dan Kokotajlo
US/Can release: Jun 04 2018 (DVD)
UK/Ire release: Jul 27 2018 (VOD same day)

MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, upsetting scenes)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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