Apostasy is defined as “abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person” and is what happened to one of the characters within. I’m not at all religious, but I’d heard a lot of good things about this film.
Ivanna (Benidorm‘s Siobhan Finneran) is heavily religious, making younger daughter Alex (Molly Wright) feel guilt-tripped into delivering leaflets rather than going to college and getting an education. The combination of the writing, direction and the acting is fantastic, as both Alex and Luisa get across the characterisation that they’re trying to deliver a message whilst not really believing it and, in Alex’s case, wishing she was actualy at college.
You wouldn’t have realised that this is the first feature film for writer/director Daniel Kokotajlo if you weren’t told that.
One of the rules of being a Jehovah’s Witness is that you’re not allowed to associate with those who are not followers, but what can you do if it happens to someone in your own family? The way they come across as trying to police your life just makes me think of The Stonecutters in The Simpsons, and as Homer is shunned from that organisation, like a character in this film, I’m expecting them to similarly shout out, “Why don’t those stupid idiots let me in their crappy club for jerks?”
Jehovah’s Witness followers also shun blood transfusions, although as her doctor explains to Alex early on, she was given one as a child and without that, she would have died. I’m not at all religious but I’ve had a number of operations in my life, and you have to let the doctors know what they’re doing, and if you refuse someone else’s blood on religious grounds then, quite frankly, you’re nuts.
A new Elder, Steven (Robert Emms), comes into the mix in the second act, and you can see that the character actually believes that you can coast along in this sort of a job because before long, Jesus will return, there’ll be an Armageddon as God will make Earth a complete Paradise, and everyone can live a Utopian existence. This is also known as being a bit of a lazy get.
In a scene that shows someone watching a Jehovah’s Witness promotional video, you can also feel the cynicism about such a promised vision, given the situation that the viewer of that video is in at the time it comes in the film.
Everyone is on-point in this movie and as mum Ivanna finds herself caught up in an impossible situation, I would love to see Siobhan Finneran get a BAFTA nod for this movie. It has already won the 2017 London Film Festival IWC Schaffhausen Filmmakers Bursary Award for its director and former Jehovah’s Witness, Daniel Kokotajlo.
I was curious to see which Kingdom Hall the film featured, as it’s clearly set in Manchester, and I love to see Manchester locations featured in film, but it wasn’t coming up on any nearby locations on Google Maps. IMDB lists Oldham as a filming location, which is a bit further away from me, but it wasn’t either of the buildings I found near there.
This is a must-see, and for a 95-minute movie, the plot doesn’t dawdle in its brief running time, and you’re looking for another superb movie with a religious theme mixed with similar cynicism, do check out Stations Of The Cross from brother and sister duo Dietrich Brüggemann and Anna Brüggemann.
The film wasn’t shot quite as narrow as First Reformed’s 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio, but as confirmed by Daniel Kokotajlo on Reddit, it was 1.50:1, a classic 35mm photographic film ratio. This is not far off IMAX’s 1.44:1 aspect ratio, so imagine this film on a huge screen in 70mm! 🙂
There are some scenes that would fit quite perfectly in a conventional 16:9 or 1.85:1 frame, and so the extra height isn’t exactly necessary as the top of the screen could be classed as ‘unused space’, but from an artistic point of view, it does look fantastic.
I can tell there’s also some grading on the image to get across that dank look that makes every Manchester-based scene one that was set on a Sunday afternoon, and that’s helped by the pristine image that we see.
The sound is in DTS 5.1 HD-MA, and but it’s mostly a dialogue-driven piece with scant score, but it doesn’t need that. The director says in the audio commentary that the opening originally featured a piece of foreboding music, but then it was taken out and left silent, which suits it well.
The extras are as follows:
- Deleted/Alternative scenes (9:15): Three scenes, the second of which features Ideal’s Peter Slater challenging Jehovah’s Witnesses in the street as they sell The Watchtower. The third is the longest scene (around 6 mins 30 seconds) which is an extended version of a key scene used in the film and which I won’t give spoilers here.
- Above The Scenes (6:55): Behind-the-scenes on-set footage, sometimes oddly shot from high up.
- Interviews (28:16): A few minutes of chat apiece for Siobhan Finneran, Molly Wright, Robert Emms and Sacha Parkinson.
- Trailer (2:00): In the original 1.50:1 aspect ratio and the trailer is not spoilery.
- Audio commentary: with director Daniel Kokotajlo and Sacha Parkinson, who plays Luisa.
The menu features the three female leads with clips from the film running behind them, while a brief piece of the score plays. There are a bog-standard 12 chapters and subtitles are in English only. There is also a brief bit of English dialogue which is not subtitled, but it’s just inconsequential chatter at a party. Occasionally, Urdu is also spoken but that is subtitled in English.
Running time: 96 minutes
Released: September 17th 2018
Sound: DTS HD-MA 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Languages: English, with some Urdu
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Daniel Kokotajlo
Producers: Andrea Cornwell and Marcie MacLellan
Screenplay: Daniel Kokotajlo
Music: Matthew Wilcock
Ivanna: Siobhan Finneran
Alex: Molly Wright
Luisa: Sacha Parkinson
Steven: Robert Emms
Chloe: Bronwyn James
Umar: Aqib Khan
Brother Terry: Steve Evets
Elder Brian: James Quinn
Deborah: Claire Hackett
Michelle: Jessica Baglow
Elder Alan: James Foster
Consultant: James Puddephatt
Aunty Linda: Clare McGlinn
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.