Review: Apostasy

Daniel Kokotajlo’s striking debut is a harrowing insight into the way Jehovah’s Witnesses have their lives controlled by the religion’s rules. To many people, the rules that are well known seem absolutely bizarre and cruel. Apostasy highlights many of the more unknown requirement of being a Jehovah’s Witness, only causing the film to become more and more shocking as it goes on. It’s a bold debut by Kokotajlo, with some stunning central performances.

We see how a religion affects a mother and her two daughters over the course of about a year. Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) has been embedded with it for all her life and nothing comes before her devotion towards it, even her own children it seems. Alex (Molly Wright) always feels like she’s let down everyone as she was forced a blood transfusion as a child against her elders wishes, a big “no, no” within their religion. She’s subsequently spent her entire childhood trying to be a devout Jehovah’s Witness. Then there’s Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), a little older than her sister and a lot more confident. Her faith isn’t as strong as her relatives, but as the film shows throughout, the grip it manages to hold everyone on by is tight, with no leeway. This means when she is guilty of religious transgression, she is effectively shunned by her own family. What’s impressive when reading this is that you think you can work out whats arcs the characters are going to go on, but they’re all written so wonderfully and complex that you’re never fully on board with anyone.

Newcomer Molly Wright leads the film with one of the most matured and confident performances you’re likely to see all year.

The performances by the three female leads are all wonderful and each bring unique qualities to their performances. Newcomer Molly Wright leads the film with one of the most matured and confident performances you’re likely to see all year. She manage to make Alex not unhappy per say, but defiantly feel like she’s missing out on something more. It only adds to the conflicts the religion gives her that much more impactful. Sacha Parkinson is also a revelation as her sister who is basically removed from her families lives because of the Jehovah’s Witnesses strict rules. In a role that easily could’ve become a young girl walking away from her super religious family, we see the struggles Luisa goes through, despite being “free”. It’s a powerful story and one that proves that for some, family is the strongest bond. Finally, Siobhan Finneran absolutely nails the conflicted role of being a Mother who must shun one daughter while also being protective of the other. We get a cold, distant woman who follows her beliefs to a fault followed by a sensitive and unsettled Mother who isn’t sure what is right from wrong at times. It’s absolutely breathtaking to watch at times.

(Siobhan Finneran is) absolutely breathtaking to watch at times.

The film often misses key elements of plot and presents us with the aftermath of the situation instead. It’s proof that consequences are louder than actions, especially when they’re affecting others. These cuts also allow the film to explore the loneliness caused by the strict rules of being a Jehovah’s Witness. Months pass, but we always tend to find Alex alone in a room reading or doing some writing. There’s a lovely quote later on about the difference between love and infatuation, but the harsh reality is there seems to be little of both, despite being a community who are all brought together with a common belief.

Apostasy takes your hand and leads you down a path you weren’t expecting to go down.

There are some brilliant uses of sound, especially in the second act. There’s a lot of Foley sound that gradually increases in volume, making seemingly mundane scenes feel like they’re building towards a crescendo. Before you realise it, Apostasy takes your hand and leads you down a path you weren’t expecting to go down. These sudden turns within the plot only increase the dramatic quality, meaning the film never falls into tropes and expectations. There’s a clear three act structure to the film, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can guess how we get to each one. It’s a wonderfully grounded yet unnatural story that only cements the fact Daniel Kokotajlo is going to be a wonderfully original voice in British cinema.

…Daniel Kokotajlo is going to be a wonderfully original voice in British cinema.

Apostasy is one of the best British films to be released this year. It helps that the director has first hand experience with the religion (he turned his back on it years ago) which allows the film to be accurate and honest. You never get the sense that anything has been added in for dramatic purposes because the screenplay speaks for itself. Apostasy will shock you while teaching you a lot more than you were ever prepared to know about Jehovah’s Witnesses. It’s a magnificent and disturbing debut.

9/10

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