The first feature film of director Daniel Kokotajlo, Apostasy may not be one you've heard of. Centring on a trio of Jehovah's Witnesses in the North of England, a mother and two daughters of eighteen and early twenties(ish), the drama unfolds without fanfare but with increasing intrigue. Kokotajlo, who also wrote the script, is not one for lengthy, overstated exposition.
The younger daughter, Alex (Molly Wright), had a blood transfusion, banned to all within the faith, as a baby and suffers crippling guilt because of it. Alex tries to compensate for this, throwing herself into her faith by way of repentance.
Older sister Luisa, (Sacha Parkinson) who is at college, becomes pregnant by a boy who is not a member of the faith- and crucially does not want to be. The girls are sweet natured, earnest and bright, but take differing paths to deal with their “sin”.
Their mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), comes across as slightly bitter. It is never said why, but the fact that there is no father around and Ivanna wears a ring suggests possibly the premature death of a husband. Pure speculation though, and frankly somewhat irrelevant. Her dourness could just be the joylessness of the life she chooses to live.
The Jehovah's Witness congregation the women are part of is portrayed as a very male dominated, insular little sect. Whether this is true of the faith or not I don't know, but it certainly feels real, and that drives the drama. As the church Elders pass down judgement on Luisa, and also Ivanna, Alex is caught in the middle. The family unit begins to crumble under the weight of the hierarchical strict belief.
Apostasy is shot with naturalistic visuals, but a dream-like, offbeat style to the editing and use of narration. It's not showy, but it is unique. I rather liked it. None of the actors is very well known, which combined with the aesthetics, pacing, and minimal score, adds to the realism of the slowly unfolding family feud.
This is a tale about women's rights over their body within a patriarchal, oppressive system, told from a female perspective. All three women in Apostasy's family have their corporeal matter objectified and judged by men and their religion in one way or another; challenging their human relationships, and that with their God.
Quietly affecting, the sadness in Apostasy wraps you up, slowly creeping into your consciousness. Subtly stylish cinema.
The Cinematic Sommelier: Because of the unique storytelling, this is a hard one. Mike Leigh's social realism certainly echoed in Apostasy. The issues of faith being tested reminded me of Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley. The Magdalene Sisters (available on Netflix) has a similar theme, though tells a different story. Very much worth a watch, but perhaps not all on the same night.
Bedsit it? It isn't one I'd rush back to watch, but that's mainly because it isn't exactly fun watching a family struggle so much. I would recommend it however, most definitely. Director Kokotajlo is one to keep an eye one. Apostasy is a challenging drama, which eats at you long after you've watched it. 7/10