Rating: 1.5 out of 5 (poor)
Synopsis: Following a mother and her two daughters within Manchester’s Jehovah’s Witnesses community, Apostasy documents the struggle between rebellion and devotion when living under an orthodox and introverted religion.
Apostasy’s setting and its gendered perspective on religion is brimming with potential. It is a potential left unrealised as the story, despite interesting ideas from director Daniel Kokotajlo, descends into a series of stilted, unceasing and empty conversations.
The starkness and emptiness of the film itself, in its up close documentary style, is a reflection of life for the three women. The deafening silence drives home Apostasy’s message about the restrictiveness of life as a Jehovah’s Witness. By halfway however I no longer wanted to watch Apostasy. I endured the remainder out of stubbornness when retrospectively the cinema’s bar would have delivered a more entertaining fifty minutes. Regardless of the good ideas behind the plot, I realised that nothing had happened and nothing would arrive in Apostasy which would really grip me.
Apostasy, like a lot of contemporary art, justifies its existence on the ideas that its creator purports it to have. Beyond the creator’s proclamation of what his work represents, the creation is an empty vessel framed by ideas and explanations but yielding neither appeal or enjoyment to the ordinary person. Art and film are mediums where the work can carry a message and still be enjoyed by the unaware or the uninitiated. During Apostasy I became painfully conscious that I was watching another person’s ideas, rather than a story. Film criticism far too often fixates on the ideas and subject matters of an independent film which are salient among more academic and cultural circles, while disdainfully curling its lip at the box office fare. Worse still is the reticence to criticise a film deemed intellectual for fear of appearing uneducated in turn. Apostasy’s look at gender and religion are relevant today and it is not a bad a film, but the film does not merit the recognition awarded by mainstream film critics. To a large degree my displeasure with Apostasy was that it ill fitted the structure of a film. The pace was far too slow and a lot of the background for the three main characters and preceding events in Apostasy were given little attention. If Apostasy had been given the longer run-time of a short television season, much of the intriguing background which is wasted in the film could have been better used.
The film does have some positive aspects. The continuing use of monologues among the main characters as they each talk to Jehovah draws the viewer into their individual approaches to God. The main trio of Siobharn Finneran,Sacha Parkinson and Molly Wright, deliver good performances as do the other cast members while the film’s third act is a surprising shift which sadly arrives too late.
Do see Apostasy if you want to know more about being a Jehovah’s Witness, but wait until it is on the television so you have the mercy of changing channel if desired.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below;