Directors: Daniel Junge, Bryan Storkel
Cast: John Renken, John Duffell
Watch Fight Church online in the UK: Netflix UK
Fight Church is a documentary about Christians who are also MMA fighters. If that sounds like a bizarre contradiction, it’s because it is – and it’s to the movie’s credit that it acknowledges it.
Directors Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel stand back and let the fighters speak for themselves. Some of them are pastors, others are not, but all of them are God-fearing men. And all of them enjoy punching each other in the face inside a giant cage.
It’s “one of the few sports mentioned in the Bible” argues one, without a trace of irony or humour. Indeed, what’s striking is just how serious and un-self-aware they are about their chosen lifestyle – even when they adopt such amusingly paradoxical wrestling names as “The Pastor of Disaster”.
The film’s decision to leave its subjects to voice their own beliefs means that we engage with the humans as more than mere sideshow curiosities. For all their violence in the ring, some are compassionate outside of it: two pastors who duel each other (in the hope of an evenly matched bout) sit happily side by side in a sermon afterwards. Others are less so: John, the leader of a crusades-supporting denomination says turning the other cheek is important, but that if you disrepect him, “you’re going down”. It’s only a matter of a time before he comes out of retirement to defend his wife’s honour, fist to fist.
Even here, though, that decision is impressive in its sheer, religious-like commitment: John’s retraining is a disgusting act of pummelling rubber tyres and vomiting, which Junge and Bryan Storkel shoot up close with the same physicality they use to capture the brutal fights.
At the same time, though, they give plenty of screen time to John Duffell, a New York priest who repeatedly points out that MMA goes against the Christian moral of loving one another. This impartial approach is the documentary’s greatest strength – and also its weakness. It’s perhaps no surprise that one half of the directorial duo (Storkel) previously helmed Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians, which featured a similar contradictory lifestyle. This lacks that movie’s gripping narrative drive, but what emerges is an intriguing tale of fervent devotion to agape and aggression. Fight Church is a documentary about Christians who are also MMA fighters. That alone is enough to make it worth watching.