Apostasy, the outstanding new work by debut filmmaker Daniel Kokotajlo, is centred on a family of three Jehovah’s Witnesses who have their bond tested following the slow breakaway of one of the members. It’s the best British feature to have been released in some time.
Many faith-based movies sway towards one side, either negative stereotypes or pure propaganda, but this picture does neither. Rather, the Manchester-born director captures an authenticity that could be only be caught by someone who’s lived, breathed and talked like the characters in his film. That person would be the auteur himself, an ex-Jehovah’s Witness.
Drawing upon his personal experiences, Kokotajlo tells the story of two young women, Alex (Molly Wright) and Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), and their mother Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran). Alex is the devout child, steadfast in her beliefs and willing to preach to those who aren’t in “the truth”. Luisa, on the other hand, is much more sympathetic to non-believers – sometimes too much, as it leads her down a road that upsets those within her faith, damaging a relationship that isn’t easily recoverable. The latter sister’s influence causes some internal conflicts within her stricter sibling.
The filmmaker strikes gold with his cast. Upcoming actress Molly Wright is a golden find for the director – who favours close-ups – because of her ability to perform through subtle facial expressions. The terrific actress is utterly convincing in her embodiment of a religious person whose ideologies toe the line between extant and questioned. Parkinson, Finneran and Robert Emms (portraying Steven, a leading figure in the church) are excellent. The Happy Valley veterans lend a naturalism to their committed characters that enriches the honesty and accuracy of the piece.
The existence of Jehovah’s Witnesses is quiet, devoid of all popular culture, and an effectively minimalist score reflects this. The one time where a pop song blares is loud, and Kokotajlo mirrors this moment with one of the feature’s most intense scenes. Made by a Mancunian and shot on location, the movie is a realistic portrait of the tight-knit northern communities and the multicultural engagement within them. Alex is part of the Urdu congregation, learning the Bible in the Pakistani language so she can go through the doors of their community.
Extremely nuanced and eye-opening, Apostasy may be one of the greatest depictions of faith in cinema. The complexity of the religious conflicts, paradoxes, justifications and beliefs which Kokotajlo presents is painfully real, and not just for audiences with a past/present connection to Jehovah.
Apostasy is released nationwide on 27th July 2018.
Watch the trailer for Apostasy here: