The Movie Waffler New Release Review - APOSTASY | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - APOSTASY

apostasy film review
When her daughter becomes pregnant, a Jehovah's Witness is torn between faith and family.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Daniel Kokotajlo

Starring: Siobhan Finneran, Robert Emms, Sacha Parkinson, Molly Wright

apostasy film poster

For his feature debut, Apostasy, British writer/director Daniel Kokotajlo drew on his own experiences of growing up within the Jehovah's Witness community of the Northern English town of Oldham. While in his early twenties, ideological differences, fuelled by his experiences at college, caused Kokotajlo to part ways with a way of life he had previously never questioned.

The surrogate for Kokotajlo in his somewhat autobiographical tale is Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), a young twenty-something Jehovah's Witness who lives with her mother, Ivanna (an outstanding Siobhan Finneran), and younger sister, Alex (Molly Wright). Ivanna is deeply embedded in her church, and expects her daughters to follow suit, but one day Luisa reveals that she is pregnant. As the father, whose identity Luisa keeps secret, isn't a Witness, Luisa is expelled from the church, and Ivanna is forbidden from contacting her.

apostasy film

Meanwhile, Alex embraces her religion with the same fervour as her mother, studying Urdu in an attempt to convert the town's Islamic community. Alex has just turned 18, and despite suffering from potentially fatal anaemia, she refuses to comply with her doctor's wishes to receive a blood transfusion, a procedure which saved her at childbirth when doctors proceeded against her church's wishes.

Whether deserved or not, Jehovah's Witness have a bad rep, viewed by mainstream Christians with the sort of suspicion usually reserved for the likes of Scientologists. While his film is critical of the system of rules that endangers the lives of Witnesses and tears families apart, Kokotajlo is careful to remind us that these are otherwise perfectly normal people who socialise, get drunk and dance like the rest of us, and their beliefs are no more far-fetched than any other Christian sect (if anything, their lack of belief in a 'soul' makes them more grounded than most).

apostasy film

The mundane modern setting adds to this sense of outdated dogma clashing with contemporary western life. Thanks to the North West locale, every character looks and sounds like they stepped off the set of Coronation Street (indeed Parkinson once had a recurring role on the popular soap), and there's a working class warmth to even their most heated interactions. Here, cruelty is dispensed by people who don't really understand the rules they're adhering to, but are too scared to question them.

Like most religions, this is one that treats women as second class citizens, and the three women at Apostasy's centre have their lives governed by a small cabal of men. One young man (Robert Emms) who begins dating Alex works as a window cleaner, and you get the idea that the church offers lowly men the opportunity to wield the sort of power denied them by wider society.

apostasy film

As seen in Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida and Paul Schrader's First Reformed, Apostasy employs a narrow aspect ratio, which seems now to be the go-to choice for framing crises of faith. Kokotajlo uses the height of the ratio in a similar way as Pawlikowski, often leaving the top half of the frame empty, as though leaving room for an unseen higher power; it also highlights the starkness of the unadorned surroundings the Jehovah's Witnesses inhabit.

The absence of a male in the central household suggests that Ivanna may have chosen her faith over her husband, and she now finds herself in a similar situation with Luisa. Ivanna begins to make secret visits to her daughter, helping out around her rented flat while doing her best not to show any affection. In the film's most heartbreaking scene, Ivanna makes sandwiches for herself and Luisa, but the two women eat their meals in separate rooms. You want to reach into the screen and shake Ivanna, but you get the feeling she would only further retreat into the false comfort of her faith.

Apostasy is in UK/ROI cinemas July 27th.