Reviewed by April McIntyre
Apostasy: “The abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle” cites the dictionary, which gives audiences a hint at what to expect from director, Daniel Kokotajlo’s debut, an insight into the lives of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Kokotajo, a former Jehovah’s Witness himself for 10 years shines a light on a community about which many know very little.
Apostasy, set in Manchester, not far from where Kokatajo was brought up, follows a particularly tempestuous time for one family. Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) and her daughters Alex (Molly Wright) and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), devotees to The Truth, struggle to maintain their relationship following Luisa’s “disfellowship” a result of an indiscretion with a “worldly boy”. The elders forbid family contact until she is seen fit to return.
Alex, striving to lead a life to secure her place in the “New System” is the antithesis of her sister, putting her religion before friends, family and herself with entirely different consequences. Wright gives a nuanced and memorable performance as a girl navigating her way into adulthood with the desire to erase the shame she carries following a blood transfusion she received as a child. And in between this, sits Ivanna, torn between motherhood and her faith.
The camera sits suffocatingly close, imposing heads filling the screen, mirroring the isolation and captivity of the films’ characters. Everything about the film is sparse; the locations, the expressionless faces, the lack of colour. The atmosphere is heavy and cloying and at times can be unsettling to watch. Finneran’s evocative performance is the winner here, carrying with her the haunted vacancy of a woman that’s utterly powerless. It opens a door into a sect that many deem to be archaic and cult-y, however, Kokotajo allows for mutual understanding even within this somewhat alien way of living.
In what could have easily been a documentary, Kokotajo comes at this from a more emotional angle, humanising the characters and creating a story using his own experiences and memories as a former follower. The family, and their fold are anxiously waiting The New System in which they will be reunited with lost loved ones and transported to a world of peace and tranquillity. The line, “the world is in the hands of the wicked one” can be sure to resonate with everyone, whatever their faith or belief may be. Apostasy is a revealing insight into the world of Jehovah’s Witnesses but also cuts close to home for the rest of us. As a debut feature, what comes next from this director will be hotly anticipated.
Apostasy ia in cinemas from Friday 27th of July