VOD film review: Apostasy
James R | On 24, Jul 2018
Director: Daniel Kokotajlo
Cast: Molly Wright, Sacha Parkinson, Siobhan Finneran, Robert Emms, Bronwyn James
Apostasy. The act of refusing or rejecting a religious belief. Debut director Dan Kokotajlo captures the full potency of that word in his remarkable first feature, which is set within a close-knit Manchester community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a world where The Truth is raised above everything else – and the people doing the raising are uniformly men.
Kokotajlo focuses on three strong women within this sexist church environment. There’s 18 year-old Alex (Molly Wright), who lives with the shame of a blood transfusion when she was born – a forbidden medical procedure, but one which kept her alive. There’s her devout mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran). And there’s her sister, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), markedly less so. When Luisa is expelled, Alex’s own loyalty is put to the test – not to her sister, but to the church.
An ex-Witness himself, Kokotajlo’s tender, detailed script explores the strength of the ties between the trio, as Ivanna tries to do what’s right and Luisa tries to maintain the emotional connections that are just as vital for a happy life. Presented without music and in a stark 4:3, the result is a powerfully honest study of religious and family commitment and the conflict between the two – a clash full of mute promises, quiet compromise and silent regret. There’s hope, in the form of Robert Emms’ sympathetic Steven, a brother in the church who fancies himself a suitor to Alex, but it’s hemmed in by the patriarchy that he upholds.
Underlying it all is the unanswered question of the title: Who does the apostasy refer to? Is it the sinful Luisa? The elders of the church, who abandon their Christian duty of support and forgiveness? Or the Jehovah’s Witness movement itself? Performed flawlessly by a committed cast, this is a complex, challenging and deliberately ambiguous piece of cinema.